Plume poppy – info, planting, care and tips

Flower of plume poppy (Macleaya cordata)
Flower of plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) - by Sphl

Plume poppy put an end to abandoned places in the bed, cover unsightly walls or act as a privacy screen along the garden fence. With majestic growing power, the majestic perennial transforms the balcony or terrace into a green retreat. If the feather-light panicle flowers rise above the mighty ornamental leaves in summer, the Macleaya cordata has earned the title of a decorative perennial. Nevertheless, we must not ignore its treacherous sides, such as its poison content and its tendency to proliferate. Find out here how care in the garden and tubs can be done professionally.

Profile of plume poppy:

Scientific name: Macleaya cordata

Plant family: poppy family (Papaveraceae)

Other names: five-seeded plume-poppy

Sowing time: January to March

Planting time: Spring (April) or Autumn (September)

Flowering period: June to August

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, single position, borders, cottage garden, flower garden, natural garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3 (-40 °C / -35 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of plume poppy

Plant order, origin and occurrence of plume poppy

The plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) is an impressive, tall perennial. In addition to the plume poppy, the genus only includes the ocher-colored plume poppy (Macleaya microcarpa). Both belong to the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and come from the mountain forests of Japan and eastern China.

Characteristics of plume poppy


Plume poppy are visually very different from other well-known poppy species such as oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) or corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas). Its rigid, upright stems reach heights of between 200 and 300 centimeters (7 and 10 ft) and contain an orange-brown juice that leaves iodine-like stains on the skin and clothing that are difficult to wash out. Plume poppy tend to proliferate and form dense groups in the bed by runners.


The greenery of Macleaya cordata are very decorative: the leaves are heart-shaped (sometimes stronger, sometimes less distinct), notched and have rounded and / or serrated lobes. The upper side of the leaf shows a subtle gray-green, the lower side is gray with a light pink shimmer.


Plume poppy blooms in summer and, depending on the weather, lasts from June to July / August. The perennial forms long, narrow and very filigree flower panicles, which consist of tiny light brown or cream-white single flowers. They are at the end of the long stems.


After the bloom, tiny fruit capsules form with the seeds.

Plume poppy – cultivation and care


Plume poppy lives up to its reputation as a reliable filler with a decorative look in all sunny to partially shaded locations. Wind and rain cause the perennial in the open just as little as summer heat in front of a south wall. The floral giant in the bucket is therefore ideal for providing shade on the sunny balcony.


The opulent perennial thrives in any normal garden soil. The soil should be well drained and rich in nutrients. In terms of the specific soil composition, the plume poppy are flexible. It likes sandy-loamy to freshly moist; the loose, humus-rich soil along the edge of a wood does not affect its urge to spread and the abundance of flowers any more than a typical rock garden floor.

In order for a plant in the bucket to meet expectations, a structurally stable potting compost-based soil is recommended. The lowest possible peat content is an advantage, since this substrate tends to compact after a short drying time and hardly stores any water. Add a handful of lava granules, expanded clay or sand to ensure good permeability.


Macleaya cordata is usually planted as a solitary plant. A maximum of four plants should be placed on one square meter. To prevent them from spreading, you can put a rhizome barrier.


The sunnier the location, the more moisture the plant evaporates by its mighty leaves. Water in the open regular and plentiful without waterlogging. Check the soil regularly with a thumb test during warm summer days. If the upper 3-4 cm (1-1.5 in) feel dry, it needs to be watered. Put the irrigation water directly on the root disc. Since rainwater does not always run through the dense leaves, even after a summer rain, it may be necessary to water even in that case.

In a tub, the balanced water supply is the cornerstone of proper care for Macleaya cordata. Since the water reserves are used up more quickly in the limited substrate volume, you can handle this aspect as follows:

  • Press your finger 3-4 cm (1-1.5 in) deep into the earth every 2-3 days
  • If the soil is dry, pour the water slowly onto the root disc
  • If the first drops run out of the bottom opening, the current demand is covered

If water has cumulated in the saucer, it is poured out after 10-15 minutes. If the plant is in an uncovered location, it is better not to use a saucer so that there will be no waterlogging after a downpour.


There is tremendous growth power in the plume poppy that does not require any additional nutrients. Only when there are deficiency symptoms, such as flaccid, pale leaves or a sparse bloom, add mature compost with horn shavings, bark humus, guano or another organic fertilizer to the roots. Rake in the material on the surface and then water. You should back away from administering a concentrated load of nitrogen from a mineral fertilizer, such as blue fertilizer.

While plume poppy use their extensive roots to get the necessary nutrients from the ground, this option is not available for plants in the bucket. The supplies in the pre-fertilized substrate are used up within 6-8 weeks. Fertilize the plant as follows:

  • Give an organic or mineral-organic liquid fertilizer every 4 weeks from April to September
  • First moisten the dried substrate with clear water
  • Then add the preparation to the irrigation water

Alternatively, administer a stick or cone-shaped fertilizer in April and June. Over the course of 3 months, these preparations gradually release the nutrients to the plant.


Don’t be afraid to prune the plume poppy during the year. If the plant takes on unwanted dimensions, shorten the shoots that are too long with the scissors. The withered flower stems are cut off promptly to prevent uncontrolled self-seeding in the garden. For plants in tubs, you maintain a well-groomed appearance by regularly cleaning out bloomed panicles. Between November and February, cut the perennial to the ground for an unimpeded new shoot in the next season.

Please pay particular attention to the poison content and the stubborn stains caused by the plant sap during this care measure. Wear gloves and protect skin and clothing with plastic overalls.


By division

The most uncomplicated way of propagating plume poppy is by dividing the root ball. As soon as the ground is completely thawed in March / April, dig out the rhizome of the plant near the ground. Should runners be cut for this purpose, this does not affect the successful course of the campaign. Shake off the earth of the roots and place it on a stable surface. Use a knife, saw or spade to cut the root ball into the desired number of parts. To continue:

  • Dig a planting pit at the new location
  • Keep a distance of 50-100 cm (20 to 40 in) in a group planting
  • Enrich the excavation with compost and horn shavings

Place each part in the soil in such a way that the previous planting depth is maintained. Water generously and keep the constant water supply in the following time so that the rooting take place quickly.

By root cuttings

Thanks to its strong rhizomes, the plume poppy is considered a suitable candidate for propagation by root cuttings. To do this, cut off a runner from a healthy mother plant in spring or autumn. Cut it into 5-7 cm (2 to 2.5 in) long pieces that have at least one bud. It is important to note that you make the lower cut diagonally and the upper cut straight so that you do not confuse the polarity when planting later. Proceed as follows with the prepared root cuttings:

  • Fill small clay pots with loose, lean soil
  • Insert a root cutting with the diagonally end down
  • The straight interface lines up with the substrate
  • Cover with a thin layer of substrate and moisten with a fine spray

Water the rhizome pieces regularly and do not add any fertilizer. A new root system forms in a partially shaded, warm location, which then spreads in the pot within a few weeks. The young plant is ready for replanting if it has at least 2 healthy pairs of leaves.

By sowing

Another way to propagate plume poppy is to sow the seeds that form on the pollinated inflorescences in autumn. Once planted in the garden, you won’t get rid of the plant so quickly. It propagates both by runners in the ground and by self-sowing. These ripe seeds can be harvested and best pre-cultivated in a warm room.

  • Time: January to March
  • Seed depth: 0.5 cm (0.2 in)
  • Substrate: moist cactus soil or potting compost
  • no special preparation necessary
  • set up warm (18 to 22 °C / 64 to 72 °F)
  • bright place, but without direct sunlight
  • cover seeds with fine sand or substrate
  • Germination time: irregular within 3 to 6 weeks
  • Grown in the mini greenhouse
  • alternatively protect against evaporation with a glass pane or transparent plastic bag
  • ventilate occasionally
  • remove cover after germination
  • prick out as soon as the first leaves, after the cotyledons, form
  • can be placed early in the cold frame or greenhouse
  • plant outdoors from mid-May

Diseases and pests

The biggest danger to the fast-growing plume poppy is certainly snails in the garden, which can eat them up to the ground almost overnight. The pests like to feast on the young shoots. Although the perennial sprouts again after the complete defoliation, it usually remains unattractive and sparse all year round. It is best to take appropriate measures against the voracious garden residents in early spring.


After the first frost, plume poppy gradually pull in their green parts of the plant. The root ball survives even the lowest freezing temperatures without damage in order to sprout again next spring. Special precautions are therefore not necessary in the bed. Ideally, leave the withered leaves on the plant until January / February as natural winter protection. Do not clear the fallen leaves as they also protect the root ball from the cold and permanent moisture.

While the soil protects the root ball from damage in winter, plume poppy in the bucket need the protection. Before the first frost, the following precautions are advisable:

  • Cover the pot with fleece
  • Place the container on wood if it is not already on a plant trolley
  • Cover the substrate with leaves, wood wool or brushwood

Water the perennial every now and then on mild winter days, provided there is no snow or rain. The plant receives no fertilizer from October to March.


Plume poppy contains a slightly orange, milky juice in its stems and leaves. Stains from this milk juice are not easy to remove from skin and clothing. All parts of the plant contain alkaloids such as sanguinarine and chelerythin, which characterize this poppy as a poisonous plant. Where small children play, the perennial poses a certain danger. Sensitive people may also experience irritation or redness when they come into contact with their skin.

Use in the garden

Plume poppy is one of the bee-friendly plants and is often planted in the natural garden or the farm garden. As a solitary plant, the tall perennial comes into its own in all larger beds and borders. It can also be planted in front of natural stone walls or dry stone walls, as well as on the edges of wood: here it ensures natural transitions or has a concealing effect.


There are two varieties commercially available that are very similar to the species and how they are cultivated: the common white plume poppy (Macleaya cordata var. Cordata) and Thunberg’s white plume poppy (Macleaya cordata var. Thunbergii).

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