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May Flora Spotlight:
Common Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea

Common Golden Alexanders
Zizia aurea

Common Golden Alexanders, a native herbaceous perennial, is a member of the Carrot (Apiaceae) family with yellow flowers. A common feature of plants in this family is that their flowers are arranged in flat-topped clusters called umbels, hence the family’s other name: Umbelliferae. These flower clusters bloom on stems about 2 feet tall. Its bloom time overlaps with eastern columbine, Aquilegia canadensis and creeping phlox, Phlox stolinifera. All three have similar soil and light requirements so try them together for a colorful display. It is one of those natives that every garden should have. 

Common Golden Alexanders is fairly easy to grow and, although short-lived, will self-seed and persist in many sun and soil situations. It is known for its ability to survive dry summers even though it prefers wet habitats. Habitats include moist to mesic woodlands, savannas, thickets, limestone glades and bluffs, woodland areas, abandoned fields, and wet meadows. With a long bloom time, it provides the garden some well-deserved early color for several weeks in late spring to early summer when many other plants have not yet flowered. 

Zizia aurea is an important plant to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. It is the host plant to Black Swallowtail caterpillars that feed on its leaves so plant it is masses.

The flowers, with the main stem removed, are a welcome addition to a tossed green salad. They are also a delicious cooked vegetable when used in a similar manner to broccoli. Native Americans used the pulverized root to treat sharp pains; a tea was made from the leaves and flowers to treat "female disorders"; poulticed root was used on inflammations and sores.

Common Golden Alexanders was the 2012 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year. The program is a joint effort between the North Carolina Botanical Garden and the Garden Club of North Carolina to promote the use of native plants in the home garden. For more information and to view the past wildflowers, visit the website: ncbg.unc.edu.

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