How to Grow Macleaya – Plume Poppy

Macleaya cordata flower
Macleaya cordata flower

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 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.  

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