Piper excelsum (Kawakawa)
Piper = pepper and excelsum = tall. Kawa = bitter.
A few metres high in lowland bush, kawakawa is endemic to NZ.
Recognition features of kawakawa:
- heart-shaped leaves with a palmate vein pattern
- leaf petiole is flattened at the base
- leaves often have holes, caused by a nocturnal looper caterpillar
- male and female flowers are on different plants (dioecious)
- flowers produced on erect spikes are compacted around the spike
- after pollination, female spikes form fleshy orange berry-like fruits that are eaten by birds including tūī and kererū. The tiny black seeds are hot to taste!
What causes the holes in the kawakawa leaves?
These are the result of feeding by a nocturnal, larval stage of an endemic moth Cleora scriptaria
The two photos of this insect below were taken by photographer, Phil Bendle and are acknowledged.
A pleasant winter drink, this can be made from grated ginger root, plus a few washed kawakawa leaves added to boiling water. Left to stand and liquid decanted off, add lemon juice and honey to sweeten.
Uses of kawakawa by Māori
These trees have had multiple uses and full details can found in the following link: maoriplantuse.
Article Source: Gil Roper August 2021 FOTBR Newsletter