Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) have settled in at the woodland edge of my garden, making themselves at home. I love the cheerful yellow blossoms of this native wildflower, which starts blooming in May and continues into July.
The small flowers are clustered together in showy, 3-inch, umbrella-like structures, called umbels. I enjoy cutting a few stems for late-spring bouquets.
Bees, butterflies and other pollinators appreciate the flowers’ nectar. Sometimes I notice a few black swallowtail larvae on the foliage. I’m more than happy to share some leaves with the caterpillars in exchange for more adult black swallowtail butterflies flitting about my garden in the months to come.
Golden alexanders can grow in full sun if the soil stays damp, but they seem most at home in semi-shade. They do well in almost any soil, even heavy clay or slow-to-drain low spots. Deer and rabbits seem uninterested in nibbling on the plants, good news for those whose gardens are plagued by animal pests.
When golden alexanders are really happy with their site, they can reseed with abandon. I’m taking advantage of the extra free plants, digging up some seedlings for transplanting to new spots along the woodland edge.
Native plant specialist Lynn Steiner suggests allowing golden alexanders to weave their way through other plants in a rain garden, butterfly garden or prairie garden.
If you’re new to using native plants in your garden, Steiner’s book “Grow Native: Bringing Natural Beauty to Your Garden” (2016, Cool Springs Press, $24.99) offers information to get off to a good start.
One of my favorite parts of the book is Steiner’s multiple lists of “Special-Use Natives.” Here’s a sampling:
Deer-resistant plants include baptisia, prairie smoke and turtlehead.
Among natives that attract songbirds are goldenrod, coreopsis and blanket flower.
Want to attract hummingbirds? Alumroot, cardinal flower and columbine are among their favorite natives.
Prairie clover, bee balm and pasque flower please the bees.
North American natives that thrive in dry shade include bugbane, wild ginger and bloodroot. For a hot, sunny strip, better choices are poppy mallow, prairie phlox and sage.
The book describes dozens of North American natives that are widely adaptable. When you’re ready to expand the list of possibilities, Steiner recommends going to plants.usda.gov. At this site, you can search for natives by state, and by either common name or scientific name.