Golden Alexanders are one of the earliest yellow flowers to appear in the Upland Garden, always by mid-June but in an early spring, a few can sometimes be seen in late April. It makes a beautiful display with False Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis).
Stems: Height - 1 to 4 feet, smooth and often branching, with multiple stems from the root.
Leaves: There are basal leaves and stem leaves. The basal are 2 or 3 times divided and on long stalks. Upper stem leaves are 3-parted (sometimes 5), shorter stalked, with the leaflets evenly toothed. Leaf stalks have small wings.
The inflorescence is a compound umbel rising on a long stalk above the leaves. The umbel is composed of 10 to 18 somewhat flat-topped umbellets that are small corymbs, that is, each having a number of unevenly stalked flowers such as to make the umbellet look flat-topped. The center flower is without a stalk.
Flowers: Each flower is only 1/8 inch wide with the 5 yellow petals curving inward. The calyx is very small. There are 5 stamens with yellow anthers which alternate with the petals and a pistil to complete the bisexual flower.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry brown oblong, somewhat flattened ridged seed that splits into 2 parts. Plants can be propagated by seed after 60 to 90 days of moist cold stratification with high germination rates. Un-stratified seed can be fall planted but with less success. Planting seed in the fall and letting winter do the work is much easier.
Habitat: Golden Alexanders naturalize in open woodlands, sunny meadows and even wet areas, but full sun preferred. They are very attractive to butterflies. Roots are fibrous with a tap root. The plant has few pests but will spread readily by self-sowing so allow room or be vigilant. Plants are very agressive against other smaller plants.
Names: The genus Zizia, is an honorary for German Botanist Johann Ziz (1779-1829). The species name, aurea, is Latin for gold. The author name for the plant classification, '(L.)' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. He classified the plant as Smyrnium aureum, but eventually his work was updated and the name changed by ‘W.D.J.Koch’ which refers to Wilhelm Daniel Joseph Koch (1771-1849), German botanist, Professor of Botany at Erlangen, author of several publications on European plants. The common name is believed to refer to an old edible medicinal herb from Roman times called Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) and named for the city of Alexandria where it was first found. Alexandria was named for Alexander the Great. That old plant was also in the Carrot family.
Comparisons: A native plant with similar flowers is Heart-leaved Meadow-parsnip, Zizia aptera, but there the basal leaves are undivided and the central flower in the umbellet has a short stalk and the seeds have small wings.
Above: The individual tiny 5-parted flowers of one of the numerous umbellets making up the compound umbel inflorescence. The compound umbel is composed of 10 to 18 umbellets, each a small corymb, and each with up to 20+ flowers.
Below: In a native setting, Golden Alexander contrasts nicely with False Blue Indigo as seen here in the 2nd photo in the Upland Garden of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.
Below: 1st photo - The upper stem leaves are on much shorter stalks and usually with just toothed leaf divisions, not divided. 2nd photo - The larger basal leaves, on long stalks, can be 2 to 3x divided.
Below: Maturing seed heads with the two-part seeds. In the 2nd photo the seeds have split apart into two separate seeds.
Below: The root system of Golden Alexander has a main tap root and fibrous roots. Young plant shown.
Below: The root of a mature plant.
Below: Most of the plants in the Upland Garden of Eloise Butler will be in large groups as shown below.
Notes: Golden Alexander is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler noted it in her Garden Log on May 25, 1907. Martha Crone planted it in 1946 when she was developing the Upland Garden an sheit listed on her 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time and is still present. The plant is native to Minnesota in almost all counties except six in north-central. In North America it ranges from the central plains eastward to the coast. Z. aurea is one of two Zizia's found in Minnesota, the other being Z. aptera as described above.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"