T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Macropiper excelsum (Kawakawa)

Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Magnoliids
Order: Piperales
Family: Piperaceae
Genus: Macropiper
Species: M. excelsum
Scientific name: Macropiper excelsum
Common name: Kawakawa,

Kawakawa is a small, densely branched, aromatic tree with large heart shaped fleshy leaves growing up to 5 metres.
It has tiny flowers which are on upright catkin-like spikes and occur on separate male & female plants.
The fruit which are only on female trees (2 to 5 cm) long are a whole lot of little fruit clustered on a central stem, green at first but changing to orange when ripe The seed in the soft, orange spikes that are a favoured food of many birds in late summer and are dispersed by them.. 
The root, fruit, seeds and especially the leaves of the Kawakawa plant were favourite medicinal remedies of the New Zealand Maori.  In fact the kawakawa is one of the only plants still used by the Maori people today. Externally, Kawa Kawa was used to heal cuts and wounds, as an ingredient in vapour baths, and also as an insect repellent. Internally, it was found to be effective as a blood purifier in cases of eczema, boils, cuts, wounds, rheumatism, neuralgia, ringworm, itching sore feet, and all forms of kidney and skin ailments. The leaves were chewed to alleviate toothache. The bruised leaves drew pus from boils and skin infections. A drink made from the leaves helped stomach problems and rheumatics when rubbed on joints. The leaf, if dried and burnt is an insect repellent.

 The name Kawakawa in Maori refers to the bitter taste of the leaves. 

The leaves are often covered with insect holes due to damage by Kawakawa looper moth caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria, Family: Geometridae).See photo  below.



Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) developing male flower catkins,  Photo September


Male flowers on catkin. October)


Male catkin with anthers


Macropiper excelsum developing fruit.

The ripe fruit which are only on female trees are  green at first but changing to orange when ripe. These are eaten and dispersed by birds.


New developing leaves.


The upper surface of a leaf.

The under surface of a leaf.


Leaf damage by Kawakawa looper moth caterpillar Cleora scriptaria which are immune to to the poisonons in the leaf. Other leave eaters do not touch them because these poisons.






Kawakawa looper moth caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria),


Kawakawa looper moth (Cleora scriptaria),