What is a Plume Poppy?

O. Parker

A plume poppy is a large, herbaceous perennial plant native to China, Japan, and South East Asia. Used as an ornamental, the plume poppy is valued for its lush leaves; its tall, striking flower stalks; and its ability to thrive in a variety of soil conditions. Once established, the plume poppy requires little additional care. The scientific name for this popular ornamental is Macleaya cordata; it is a member of the Papaveraceae, or poppy, family.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The plume poppy grows from 5 feet to 8 feet (1.5 m to 2.5 m) tall and from 2 feet to 4 feet (.6 m to 1.2 m) wide. Large leaves are gray to olive-green with delicately scalloped edges. In the summer, tall, 12-inch (30 cm) flower stalks rise above the lush foliage, creating a pale pink and creamy white plume-like effect. The flower stalks, once dried and removed from the plant, are used in dried arrangements. Removing the flower stalks before the seeds emerge will prevent the plant from self-seeding.

Temperate climates provide the best growing conditions. In areas where summers remain cool, the plume poppy will thrive in full sun. Where summers are hot, a location that gets partial shade is preferred. The plume poppy is hardy in areas where winter temperatures remain above 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 C). The foliage and flower stalks die back when winter temperatures drop below freezing, and the dead stalks should be cut back to the ground in late winter or early spring.

The foliage of the plume poppy is lush from the bottom of the plant to just below the flower plumes, making this ornamental suitable as a specimen plant or in the foreground of a shrub bed. The neutral, lush foliage also can be used as a backdrop for other ornamental shrubs. The plume poppy is less suitable in a flowerbed or as a border plant around shallow-rooted annuals, because of the aggressive, spreading nature of the rhizome root system. To prevent spreading, individual plants should be potted in plastic pots and sunk into the ground, level with the soil.

Division of the rhizome is the easiest way to propagate the plume poppy. The rhizomes are dug in the early spring and divided into sections, each containing at least one "eye" where the new shoot will emerge. Seeds are collected in the fall and sown in the spring. For reliable germination, seeds should be sown in a greenhouse or cold frame.

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