Piper excelsum subsp. excelsum
kawakawa, pepper tree
Macropiper excelsum (G.Forst.) Miq. subsp. excelsum
Vascular – Native
Trees & Shrubs - Dicotyledons
The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.
2n = 26
Current conservation status
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2017 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2012 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: By Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, John W. Barkla, Shannel P. Courtney, Paul D. Champion, Leon R. Perrie, Sarah M. Beadel, Kerry A. Ford, Ilse Breitwieser, Ines Schönberger, Rowan Hindmarsh-Walls, Peter B. Heenan and Kate Ladley.
2012 | Not Threatened | Qualifiers: Sp
Previous conservation statuses
2009 | Not Threatened
2004 | Not Threatened
Fleshy shrub with jointed dark twigs bearing large dark green glossy heart-shaped leaves with hard green flower spikes inhabiting south to Banks Peninsula. Leaves to 120mm wide, veins radiating from middle, peppery to taste, often with insect holes. Fruit orange.
Endemic. North and South Islands. Common from te Paki south to about Okarito, North Canterbury and Banks Peninsula.
Coastal to lowland (extending up 500 m a.s.l. in warmer parts of the country). Usually an important understorey species in coastal forest.
Small tree to at least 5 m tall; stems erect (occasionally layering), not notably lenticellate, new shoots red-green or green (leaf nerves, petioles and new sterns with reddish colouring), taste peppery; pith of axes (including rachis of spike) without a mucilage core. Prophyll a collar to 0.3 (-2.2) mm high. Leaf blades submembranous, orbicular, suborbicular, at vegetative nodes to 100(-120) mm diameter, usually with 5-8 principal nerves, cordate at base, with a very narrow or closed sinus, occasionally basal lobes overlapping, upper surface of blade not bullate; petiole to 40(-60) mm long, c.0.4×as long as blade, the sheath 0.3-1.0(-2)× as long as non-sheathing part, truncate-rounded at apex and not produced there, the non-sheathing part of petiole to 4.0 mm diameter. Inflorescences solitary or 2-3 together on a short (rarely more than 10 mm long) axillary shoot, and (usually solitary) on the adjacent terminal shoot (occasionally this shoot not fertile); reduced leaf at apex of fertile shoot with a glabrous petiole and usually with a green oblong lamina at least 5 mm long, but lamina often ± lacking, especially on terminal fertile shoot. Female inflorescence erect in flowering and remaining so into fruit, peduncle to c. 1.5 cm long, spike to 60(-100) × c.6 mm diameter, with uniseriate usually 5-10-cellular hairs to 0.15 mm long on lower part of bract stalks and sparingly on rachis, these hairs not obvious on the peduncle just below the lowermost bracts; bracts peltate, bract heads 0.40-0.75 mm diameter; flowers at full emergence centred c.1.3 mm apart, emergent part of ovary ovoid; stigmas 3-4(-5), together c. 1.2 mm diameter. Male inflorescence erect, spike to c.110 mm long, proximally c.6 mm diameter, bracts and hairs as in female inflorescence; staminal filaments c. 0.25 mm long, anthers c.1.00 × 0.75 mm wide. Ripe infructescence c.10 mm diameter; fruitlets coalescent, sunken apically about the persistent dark stigmas, exocarp and mesocarp orange; seed oblong to slightly obovoid, apiculate at apex, c.2.0 × 1.5 dark brown, with (3-)4-5(-7) broad longitudinal furrows.
Distinguished from the other subspecies by the wine-red to purple-black stems and petioles, and by the leaves which are never peltate, though on some of the Hauraki Gulf Islands, Tuhua (Mayor Island) and Chatham Islands plants often have overlapping leaf bases.
August - November
Throughout the year
Easily grown from semi-hardwood cuttings and fresh seed. An attractive small tree that does best in dappled light, within a free draining but permanently moist soil. Very shade tolerant. Cold sensitive and will not tolerate frost.
Kawakawa is a member of the pepper family related to kava - used as a drink in the Pacific. The fruit and leaves are aromatic and Maori used leaves as poultices to treat bruises, and as a sign of mourning.
Foraging for kawakawa
Click on the Radio New Zealand National logo to listen to This Way Up. Simon Morton interviews Johanna Knox about foraging for kawakawa (duration: 12′13″)
The generic distinction between Macropiper and Piper has always been tenuous. Recently Jaramillo et al. (2008) have shown that Macropiper should be merged in Piper. However, they did not effect the full transfer of the New Zealand taxa to Piper. This action was taken by de Lange (2012) for Macropiper excelsum subsp. psittacorum, Macropiper excelsum subsp. peltatum f. peltatum and f. delangei.
Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange 30 August 2005. Description based on Gardner (1997).
References and further reading
de Lange, P.J. 2012: Taxonomic notes on the New Zealand flora: new names in Piper (Piperaceae). New Zealand Journal of Botany DOI:10.1080/0028825X.2012.708904
Gardner, R.O. 1997: Macropiper (Piperaceae) in the south-west Pacific. New Zealand Journal of Botany 35: 293-307.
Jaramillo, M.A.; Callejas, R; Davidson, C.; Smith, J.F.; Stevens, A.C.; Tepe, E.J. 2008: A phylogeny of the tropical genus Piper using ITS and the chloroplast intron psbJ-petA. Systematic Botany 33: 647-660.
NZPCN Fact Sheet citation
Please cite as: de Lange, P.J. (Year at time of access): Piper excelsum subsp. excelsum Fact Sheet (content continuously updated). New Zealand Plant Conservation Network. https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora/species/piper-excelsum-subsp-excelsum/ (Date website was queried)