My name is Macleaya cordata, Bocconia cordata, or Bocconia japonica —
but you can call me Plume Poppy.
The most-asked garden question recently has been, “What’s that tall plant over there?” Usually when visitors ask for flower identification, I need to look at the plant to be certain, since descriptions can be vague or ambiguous. Not so with the Plume Poppy. When there’s a 10-foot tall flower in bloom nearby, I can be pretty sure that’s the one they’re talking about.
I did some quick research to satisfy my own curiosity, and to be able to answer the inevitable questions that this unusual plant was sure to elicit. It is a member of the poppy family. I wasn’t sure, since common names aren’t always reliable as far as identification goes. But neither are scientific names. Sometimes new information brings about changes in genus or species and it’s hard to keep up with what’s currently correct.
This perennial is from China, and can withstand -40 temps. Its pale gray-green foliage is shaped somewhat like that of other poppies. The leaves look like paper cutouts — thin and flat and often over 15 inches wide. That explains the poppy half of the common name, and the plume-like blossoms account for the rest.
Upon approaching for a up-close look, a constant humming noise can be heard (click on the link to view the video on Facebook). The cream colored blooms are swarming with small bumblebees and other insects. The sound is really noticeable because the Plume Poppies cover a large area — several of my sources noted its invasive qualities. So if you plant it, just be aware of this, and be prepared to be asked, “What’s that tall flower all over there?”
Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.