Māori name: Kawakawa

English Name: New Zealand Pepper Tree

Scientific name: Piper excelsum​

NZ Status: Endemic

Conservation Status (NZTCS): Non threatened

Found: Kawakawa is endemic to New Zealand’s North and South islands and it can be found growing from coastal areas to lowland.

Did you know? The heart-shaped leaves of kawakawa mark one of the forest’s most distinctive and beneficial species. Chewing its leaves, or making a decoction from them, produces an effective anaesthetic for toothache and other complaints.

Photo Credit: Janice McKenna

The importance of kawakawa to Māori is shown in its role as a Rau Aroha, a garland used in tangihanga/funeral rites. 

Kawakawa produces some of the better tasting berries, known as tākawa, and refreshing herbal tea, beer, and even ice-cream can be made from its leaves. 

The leaves of kawakawa contain a potent insecticide to protect them from hungry insects. Māori gardeners would burn rows of kawakawa branches amongst their kumara plantations, to keep away insects that might damage the crop.

Looper caterpillars, however, have grown immune to the poison, and emerge at night to chew holes in the aromatic leaves.

Look for them: You can spot kawakawa throughout much of the sanctuary, although a good example is in the area to the left just after you go through the ZEALANDIA gates.