How to Grow Plume Poppy — Macleaya

Sharing is caring!

Macleaya–commonly called plume poppy–is a perennial cultivated for its foliage and graceful inflorescences. Erect stems bear heart-shaped, glaucous, gray-green to olive-green leaves. Numerous petalless, tubular flowers are borne on airy, plume-like panicles.

Grow Macleaya in a mixed border or herbaceous border or as free-standing specimens. Macleaya can grow to 8 feet (2.5m) tall; it can be grown along with large shrubs to form a temporary tall screen.

Macleaya is often listed as synonymous with Bocconia; Bocconia is actually a shrubby tropical relative. Both have creeping rhizomes and can be invasive if not controlled.

Macleaya is a genus of 2 or 3 species of rhizomatous perennials. Macleaya is natives to grassy meadows and woodland in China and Japan.

Macleaya cordata flower
Macleaya cordata flower

Get to know Macleaya 

  • Plant type: Rhizomatous perennial
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 9 
  • Hardiness: Hardy to -30°F (-34°C)
  • Height and width: To 8 feet (2m) tall with vigorous spread 
  • Growth rate: Fast 
  • Form and habit: Spreading, clump-forming 
  • Foliage: Erect, glaucous stems bear alternate, heart-shaped, palmately lobed, glaucous, gray-green to olive-green leaves, to 10 inches (25cm) long, with rounded, toothed lobes and prominent veins; stems and leaves exude yellow sap when cut 
  • Flowers: Petalless, tubular flowers, to .5 inch (1.5cm) long, with 2 or 4 sepals and a cluster of stamens, are borne in airy, plume-like panicles 
  • Flower colors: White
  • Bloom time: Early summer 
  • Uses: Mixed or herbaceous border, specimen, large shrubs, temporary tall screen, center or an island bed 
  • Garden companions: Plant amid shrubs rather than delicate perennials; combine it with equally gigantic plants, such as Joe-Pye weed 
  • Common name: Plume poppy 
  • Botanical name: Macleaya 
  • Family name: Papaveraceae 
  • Origin: China and Japan 

Where to plant Macleaya 

  • Plant Macleaya in full sun, though they will tolerate partial shade. 
  • Plant Macleaya in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil; dryer soils restrict their height.  
  • Provide shelter from cold, drying winds.  

When to plant Macleaya 

  • Plant container-grown Macleaya in the garden in spring or autumn.
  • Sow Macleaya seed in containers in a cold frame in spring. 

Macleaya uses and companions

  • Grow Macleaya in a mixed or herbaceous border; they can be grown amidst large shrubs.
  • Macleaya can be used as a temporary tall screen.
  • Macleaya is a dramatic addition to informal or naturalistic gardens; plant it to the rear of borders.
  • Good garden companions for Macleaya include Kniphofia, ornamental grass, shrubs.
Emerging flower Macleaya cordata, Plume Poppy
Emerging flower Macleaya cordata, Plume Poppy

Planting and spacing Macleaya 

  • Give Macleaya plenty of room to spread—allow 6 feet (2m) between plants—and plan on managing the amount of space they occupy by digging up plants and rhizomes that pop up where they are not wanted.  
  • Planting in a large container, either above ground or sunk in the soil, also offers a way to control their spread.  
  • Another option is a site bordered on two or more sides by a wall or other barrier.  

How to water and feed Macleaya 

  • Give Macleaya regular water. 
  • Feed Macleaya with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 

How to care for Macleaya 

  • Staking isn’t needed.  

Macleaya pests and diseases 

  • Macleaya are susceptible to attacks by slugs on young growth. 
  • Watch Macleaya for leaf spots. 

Macleaya propagation 

  • Divide Macleaya in late autumn or spring every two years or as needed to reduce crowding among clumps. 
  • Separate and transplant rooted rhizomes when dormant.  
  • Take root cuttings in winter. 
  • Macleaya seed will germinate in 21 to 28 days at 70°F (21°C); refrigerate seeds for 7 days before sowing to increase the germination rate.

Macleaya varieties to grow 

  • Macleaya cordata, Plume poppy, rhizomatous perennial with 5- to 7-lobed, gray- to olive-green leaves, white-downy beneath. In mid- and late summer, produces large, plume-like panicles of pendent, buff-white flowers, each with 25-40 stamens, on gray-green stems. To 8 feet (2.5m) tall and 3 feet (1m) wide. China, Japan. 
  • M. kewensis, rhizomatous perennial with 5- to 9-lobed, gray-green leaves. Creamy buff flowers, each with 12-18 stamens, are produced in loose, terminal panicles in early and late summer. To 8 feet (2.5m) tall and 3 feet (1m) wide or more. Garden origin.  
  • M. microcarpa, Kelway’s Coral Plume, rhizomatous perennial with 5- to 7-lobed, gray- to olive-green leaves, white-downy beneath. Large, loose panicles of pendent, deep buff- to coral-pink flowers, each with 8-15 stamens, open from pink buds in early and midsummer. To 7 feet (2.2m) tall and 3 feet (1m) or more.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

How To Grow Tips

How To Grow Tomatoes

How To Grow Peppers

How To Grow Broccoli

How To Grow Carrots

How To Grow Beans

How To Grow Corn

How To Grow Peas

How To Grow Lettuce

How To Grow Cucumbers

How To Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash

How To Grow Onions

How To Grow Potatoes

Bypass pruners

Pruning Shears Buyer’s Guide

How to Grow Evening Primrose — Oenothera