Zizia aurea (Golden Alexanders)

Plant Info
Also known as: Golden Zizia
Family:Apiaceae (Carrot)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist fields, thickets, rich open woods, along streams
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Flowers are in flat-topped clusters (umbels) 2 to 3 inches across, in 10 to 18 groups (umbellets) of up to 20 flowers each. Individual flowers are about 1/8 inch across with 5 yellow petals that fold inward and 5 yellow stamens.

[close-up of umbellets] The central flower in an umbellet is stalkless or nearly so while the rest are stalked. Umbels are at the top of the stem and arising from upper leaf axils.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 2 or 3 times compound in groups of 3. Leaflets are to 3 inches long and 2 inches wide, with sharply toothed edges and pointed tips. The end leaflet is largest and usually tapers to a narrow base, though leaflet shape varies and may be oval, egg shaped, irregular, lobed or divided into 2 or 3 parts.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is 2-sectioned, oval, slightly flattened, ridged, eventually splitting into 2 seeds.

[photo of seeds] Seeds are oblong, 1/8 to 1/6 inch long, ripen to dark brown.


Golden Alexanders often grow in colonies. In late spring and early summer it is a common sight across Minnesota in open prairies, woodland edges, and roadsides with adequate moisture. There are several related species with similar yellow flower clusters but only the Zizia species have a stalkless flower in the center of an umblet—other genera have all-stalked flowers. This trait can be seen when either flowers or fruits are present. Of the similar species, Heart-leaved Alexanders (Zizia aptera) has long-stalked, undivided, heart-shaped lower leaves. Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima) has rather airier clusters and toothless leaflets. Hairy-jointed Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium barbinode) has winged fruits, and minute hairs around the leaf nodes and at the base of the umbel. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), a highly invasive species found across Minnesota, is a much larger plant (often 4-5+ feet tall) with a larger flower cluster (to 8 inches across), duller, somewhat greenish-yellow flowers, once-compound leaves with up to 15 leaflets, and it blooms later, typically just emerging when Golden Alexanders are in full bloom.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and along a roadside in Aitkin County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary P.
on: 2008-06-09 23:52:04

I also saw this wildflower today (and took a picture of it) in Stearns County by the Mississippi River.

Posted by: Pat - Meeker co
on: 2010-04-30 20:54:44

These are quite common out here in the prairie. I don't consider them to be that showy but they produce copious amounts of seed so the birds must rely on them. Z. aptera is also prevalent (and more photogenic), perhaps the web master can provide some examples.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2010-05-01 03:31:20

Zizia aptera is on my list of things to do. :-)

Posted by: Beth - Granite Falls
on: 2012-05-24 17:38:25

There is a thick stand of zizia aurea blooming together with Canada anemone along the Minnesota River in Yellow Medicine County.

Posted by: LJW - Maplewood
on: 2015-06-09 13:23:31

Thick stands of Golden Alexander blooming now on the 3M campus in Maplewood.

Posted by: Maureen - South of Rice, MN. North of Sauk Rapids
on: 2015-06-09 18:38:12

With the plentiful rain this spring, I had no idea what this plant was that appeared in my native prairie garden. Thank you for helping me to identify it. These plants are growing along the edge of my prairie garden with some shade of the oak trees.

Posted by: Judith - Saint Paul
on: 2015-08-25 14:09:34

Do not plant Golden Alexanders or let them get established in your garden. They are extremely aggressive and spread throughout the yard, crowding out desirable plants. They are also very hard to get rid of. I have been working on this for many years and am slowly prevailing. Alas, they have now appeared around our cabin in great numbers--they must have hitchhiked on shoes or socks. Now I have another major weed problem. They are often included in prairie seed mixes which I think is a very bad idea.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-08-25 15:35:24

We have golden alexanders in our gardens and keep them in check by cutting off all the seed heads before fruit ripens (we do this with several other native species, too). GA is an important plant for spring pollinators so I would hesitate to get rid of it completely. Contrary to popular belief, a native plant garden is not maintenance free!

Posted by: Marisa - Duluth
on: 2016-06-16 13:53:29

I love your site! I was concerned that what I spotted today at Bagley Nature Center on UMD campus might be wild parsnip. I took photos, compared them to photos on your site and carefully read the descriptions (especially the leaves). Now I think what I saw is Golden Alexanders. I'll leave it alone, just to be safe - but I definitely feel better about them!

Posted by: Gary P, ecology horticulturist
on: 2017-02-11 12:37:32

A helpful side-by-side photo comparison on this Golden Alexanders page showing Wild Parsnip and Golden Alexanders would aid in teaching identification and avoidance of skin contact with WP. Stages of growth for both plants as you and Peter have done on the Wild Parsnip page --- spring emergence --- lower 12" of stem showing juvenile foliage --- stem with leaf arrangement --- floral display

Posted by: William L B - Cass County, Minnesota along MN highway #64 and Mn #87
on: 2017-06-20 11:51:03

Along highway right-of-way in moist and dry soils.

Posted by: Reb Newsom - Byron
on: 2019-06-03 14:24:10

We have a small colony of golden alexander that popped up in our school native garden this spring.

Posted by: Melinda - Saint Cloud
on: 2019-06-07 15:04:21

I think this is what's started up in a damp, shady corner by a rain barrel. (It hasn't flowered yet so I don't have that to go by.) Assuming I've identified it correctly (and it isn't poisonous), will it crowd out the lily of the valley in that area? I've been working so hard to get the lilies to spread, I don't think I can afford any competition.

Posted by: rachelle - saint cloud
on: 2019-06-18 12:49:42

what is the native name for these beautiful plants

Posted by: Kimberly
on: 2021-06-08 16:54:27

Here is a page that shows the differences between wild parsnip and golden alexanders. https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/what-difference-wild-parsnip-vs-golden-alexander

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-06-08 19:32:10

Kimberly, that page doesn't show the leaves, just a picture of the flowers, which isn't all that helpful.

Posted by: Edith Lueke - Rochester
on: 2023-06-11 01:20:21

I have a lot of this in a garden where I just planted a shady flower mix from Prairie Moon. I've seen how it proliferates, and I appreciate the note above stating that it's desirable to cut off the seeds before they can ripen. I also have seen at least one small specimen blooming in my Lawns to Legumes garden, which I am just starting this spring.

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