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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Zizia aurea (L.) W.D.J. Koch

Apiaceae (Carrot or Parsley Family)

Common Name:

golden alexander


Golden alexander is a native perennial, usually about 0.5 m tall,  found in openings in low woods, fens and moist meadows.  It blooms in May and June.

Members of the Carrot Family are easy to recognize.  They all have small 5-parted flowers, usually white or yellow, arranged in clusters called umbels, i.e. individual flowers are on stalks arranged like the spokes of an umbrella. The ridged stems are hollow between the nodes; the leaves are alternate, usually divided, and the base of each leaf stalk ends in a sheath that surrounds the stem.  Both the foliage and the seeds have oils that are aromatic.

The family has many edible species (carrot, parsnip, celery, dill) and many that are poisonous [poison hemlock, spotted water hemlock (see the Archive), water parsnip]. While the family is easy to recognize, individual species are often not, so it’s best not to consume plants in this family growing wild.

The umbel in golden alexander is divided into smaller “umbellets” and forms a flat-topped cluster of bright yellow flowers about 5 cm across. Like our other Zizia, Heart-leaved Golden Alexander (Z. aptera), the central flower in each umbellet is stalkless. The seeds have 5 ribs.

The leaves are stalked and twice divided into 5 to 11 pointed leaflets with toothed edges. The upper leaves of Z. aptera have only 3 leaflets and its basal leaves are heart-shaped.

Other similar species are Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima), whose leaflets have smooth edges; Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), which is taller (up to 2 m) and blooms in late summer; and Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum), with stalked central flowers and winged seeds.

  • Origin of the name: Zizia, for I. B. Ziz, a German botanist; aurea, L. aureus, golden yellow
  • Range:  Que. to Sask., s. to FL, TX
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates: In prairies, mountain mint, grey-headed coneflower; in woodlands green ash, wild geranium
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FAC+
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 7 (S&W), C = 6 (MI)
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