Swallowtail Caterpillars & Golden Alexanders
All in the (Carrot) Family
Black swallowtail and Ozark woodland swallowtail caterpillars like to munch on all members of the carrot family, including dill, fennel, parsley, heart-leafed meadow parsnip, yellow pimpernel, Queen Anne's lace and, of course, golden alexanders, which is also sometimes called golden zizia.
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) is one of the host plants preferred by the caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies and Ozark swallowtail butterflies.
Although it's considered a wildflower, golden alexanders grows like a weed. And it looks like one, too, with its relatively relaxed habit; smooth, green saw-tooth leaves; and unprepossessing yellow flower heads.
An herbaceous perennial that self seeds, golden alexanders is an easy plant to naturalize. It's also a fuss-free native in many areas of Canada and the continental USA, probably because it grows so well under so many different conditions.
Thinking of adding Zizia aurea to your butterfly-friendly yard?
You shouldn't have any difficulty getting it to grow.
Soil, Light, Water
Clay, loam, sandy soil—golden alexanders grows just fine in all three.
And location doesn't factor much into its ability to survive either, as it can thrive in shade and partial shade as well as full sun.
Golden alexanders won't, however, grow well in wetlands, but it's perfectly okay with moist soil—or dry soil for that matter.
Flowers & Fruit
From April into June, golden alexanders produces yellow flowers, which later form flat, oblong fruit.
Although its flowers attract all sorts of pollinators, golden alexanders self-pollinates, too. The plant is definitely a survivor!
A Swallowtail's Life in Time-Lapse Photography
A Growable Feast (For Swallowtails and Others)
Caterpillars & Aphids
Black swallowtails live throughout the eastern U.S. as well as in some parts of Canada.
They can also be found in Colorado, southeastern California and the northern regions of South America.
Although not endangered, Ozark swallowtails have a more limited habitat. They are only common in the Ozark region of Missouri and in northern Arkansas.
The caterpillars of both black and Ozark swallowtails like to feed on members of the Carrot family, including the flowers and leaves of golden alexanders.
The Rigid Sunflower Borer Moth goes for golden alexanders' stems.
And two types of aphids are also highly attracted to golden alexanders (and other members of its family).
Here in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (as many parts of Canada and the Continental U.S.) Zizia aurea is considered a native plant. It grows wild here everywhere, in the coastal plains, the Piedmont region and the mountains.
We received a small pot of golden zizia for free while attending an Earth Day celebration at Annmarie Garden in Calvert County. It's more than tripled in size since we planted it in the spring, despite being partially devoured by deer—although it's supposed to be deer resistant. Apparently the deer in our neighborhood didn't get the memo.
Lots of insects are attracted by the pollen and/or nectar of golden alexanders' flowers, especially short-tongued bees like masked bees, green metallic bees and Andrenid bees.
Wasps, including Eumenine wasps, spider wasps, Ichneumonid wasps, and Crabronine wasps also are attracted to them, as are flies and beetles.
And bumble bees, which are long-tongued bees, also sometimes visit golden alexanders' flowers.
Starting Golden Alexanders
Plant golden alexanders seed (after stratification) in the fall. It germinates best in soil that's a little cool.
You can also allow established plants to go to seed in the fall and self sow.
Golden alexanders can be propagated by division as well. Divide plant clumps in fall or early spring for transplanting.
Other Swallowtail Host Plants
Queen Anne's Lace
Black swallowtails use plants in the carrot (Apiaceae) family throughout their life cycle.
tall, leggy plants w/edible foliage & seeds
compact herb w/thick stalks, bulbous base; resembles dill
smooth, green, toothed leaves & yellow flowers
Heart-leaved Meadow Parsnip
simple heart-shaped basal leaves
biennial herb w/flat & curly-leaved varieties
Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot)
biennial wildflower 3 - 4' tall w/one or more hairy, hollow stems & umbrella-shaped flower clusters
compound leaves; untoothed leaflets
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Jill Spencer