Sunday, April 7, 2013

Golden Alexander - Zizia aurea



Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) is a short-lived perennial member of the carrot family. In Florida, it is confined to various northern counties, south to Levy County.  It is widespread elsewhere, however, and occurs in every state and province along the Eastern Seaboard north to Quebec.  Its range extends west to Manitoba and then south to Texas.  In all of this region, it prefers moist to average sites in partial to dappled sun.
Golden alexander has deeply dissected foliage - like so many other members of the carrot family.  The basal leaves are divided twice into three leaflets while the upper leaves are single.  These leaves are maintained in warmer climates, but are deciduous where temperatures drop to below freezing.  They are maintained as a mound and this is quite attractive. As a "carrot" they are also attractive to the caterpillars of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly. 
Flowering occurs in the spring.  Like other members of this family, they are borne in flat clusters, called umbels, at the top of each stem. Each flower is tiny and bright yellow.  Normally, the flower stalks stand 1-2 feet above the basal leaves, but in the plants featured above, they are much shorter.  They are pollinated by tiny bees and flies. The ripened seeds in summer are purplish.
Golden alexander would seem to be an ideal landscape plant for Florida butterfly gardeners interested in feeding eastern black swallowtails as it does not require wet soils like so many other of its larval plants do.  It is rarely propagated in Florida, however.  I purchased my plants from Dan Miller of Trillium Gardens, Tallahassee and as far as I know, he is the only nursery in the state to offer it.  We have had our plants for about a year and I am not yet prepared to recommend it too far south of its native range.  I suspect it is adaptable to at least central Florida from what we have experienced so far. I would welcome your comments if you have tried it in your landscape.

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