Golden Alexanders: Pollinator Magnet, Black Swallowtail Host Plant

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) in silhouette in my garden.

The Golden Alexanders in my garden are in full bloom. And the bees and flies and other tiny pollinators are loving it.

You rarely see Golden Alexanders mentioned in lists of pollinator plants, but I thought the flowers were pretty and I needed a spring blooming plant for my garden.

I didn’t expect the many little pollinators to flock to the golden yellow umbel flowers that create their own little meadow.

open flower cluster Golden Alexander
Open and airy flower cluster – Golden Alexanders.

The flowers of Golden Alexanders have many flowers and nectaries that make nectar. The flowers are grouped in a cluster, called an inflorescence. The inflorescence  is shaped like an umbrella (botanical term umbel).

I counted 10 -13 tiny nectar-filled flowers in each cluster or inflorescence. And there are 10- 14 clusters on each stalk. There are about 65+ stalks on the plant.

Each stalk has between 100 and 130 tiny flowers times 65 stalks. Doing the math that is about 6,000 to 8,450 tiny flowers with nectaries on my stand of Golden Alexanders. 

narrow leaves - Golden Alexander
narrow leaves – Golden Alexander

 

How to Grow Golden Alexanders

The plant I planted is the straight species, not a variety or a cultivar. It is native to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have found it relatively easy to buy at native plant sales and nurseries.

I often see Heart-leaved Alexanders (Zizia aptera) profiled in gardening books. I think the heart-shaped leaves is the attraction. But Zizia aurea is just as good a plant.

The plant 24 inches wide by 28 inches high by 20 inches deep. And I planted just one plant about two years ago.

The plant has a clumping growth habit. Clumping is what I call plants that stay in a roughly circular mass of plants. A circular mass that grows larger with each passing year. It spread outward from a central plant. They don’t run and spread over the place. They pretty much stay in one spot.

 

low, compact plant - Golden Alexanders.
A low, compact plant – Golden Alexanders.

Garden Uses of Golden Alexanders

I planted the one Golden Alexander plant at the edge of a small flower bed. On the edge it receives full sun most of the morning and shade in the afternoon. It receives adequate water. I will water it in the droughty July weather. 

I initially planted Golden Alexanders because I wanted more spring blooming flowers. I didn’t realize just how airy and pretty the plant is in the garden.

I think it makes a good, “near the front of the border” plant. It isn’t too tall. Mine plant is about 28 inches high, but the flowers aren’t dense on the stalks. You can see through the plant.

It may even look good as a cut flower, but I don’t want to take the food away from the pollinators.

flat flower heads Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Flat top, umbrella shaped flower clusters of Golden Alexanders in my garden.

Planting Information

Common name: Golden Alexanders

Scientific name: Zizia aurea

Family name: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (Carrot or Parsley Family). Other family members include: carrots, parsley, coriander, chervil, angelica, celery, and lovage. Also the highly toxic hemlock and spotted cowbane.

Description: The plant reminds me of Queen’s Anne Lace. except this plant has rich yellow flowers. The foliage is low to the ground with thin flower spikes that stand above the low foliage leaves. At the top and end of the flower stalks are clusters of flowers in a umbrella-shaped somewhat flat-top platform.

 

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)- flower cluster from above.

Native range: Quebec to Saskatchewan south to Texas and Florida

Habitat: moist meadows and low woods.

Height: 12 to 36 inches

Light needed: sun to partial shade

Moisture needed: moist to wet

Hardiness zones: 4 – 9

Bloom period: late spring

Bloom color: yellow

Propagation: easy from seed, easy to grow

Growing Tips: Some sources said this plant can spread vigorously. That may be in its ideal moist to wet conditions. I have my plant in a partially sun spot, which can be a bit dry. If you can concerned about it vigorously spreading, put it in a pot or at the edge of a barrier like I have next to a concrete path.

Ecosystem Roles and Habitat Garden Uses

Attracts: many tiny and small pollinators such as flies and bees. May attract butterflies to the nectar.

Host plant to: Black Swallowtail Butterfly

 

spent flowers Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Spent flowers, Golden Alexanders

Works Consulted

A list of book I used for background information. The links open at Amazon.com, of which I am an affiliate.

Cullina, William. The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada. 1st ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2000.

Gracie, Carol. Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History. 1st ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Leopold, Donald Joseph. Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation. 1st. Portland, Or: Timber Press, 2005.

Ottesen, Carole. The Native Plant Primer. 1st ed. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.

 

More Related Posts

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Butterfly Family: The Swallowtails 

Pollinator Syndromes: How to Predict Which Flowers Insects Will Like 

 

Buying Native Plants in Philadelphia

Schuylkill Center’s online Native Plant Sale with Curb-side pickup

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