Plant Guide


Macropiper excelsum

kawakawa, pepper tree

Bushy shrub or small tree with rounded to heart-shaped, 5-10 cm wide, aromatic leaves with prominent veins. Dark green foliage in shade, lighter green in more open positions. Leaves often covered with holes caused by the kawakawa looper moth caterpillar. Zigzagging branches, swollen at the nodes. Minute, inconspicuous female and male flowers on separate, 4-8 cm long spikes, usually on separate plants. Female flowers are followed by tiny tightly packed berries, green at first, turning orange later, providing food for birds. Occurs naturally in forests and other shady areas throughout the North Island and northern parts of the South Island of New Zealand. Leaves, bark, fruit and roots have medicinal properties.

Tolerates light frost. Prefers moist, well draining soil, but in warm humid areas, a more exposed position and relatively dry soil is best to prevent fungal diseases. Can be pruned to shape.

Excellent filler for shady areas. Also suitable as a container plant.

Type of plant

Shrub - Evergreen


usually to 2 - 3 m tall, but may reach 6 m

Landscape Use

filler under established trees, pot plant


  • Temperature: Frost tender
  • Light: Low Medium
  • Moisture: Medium
  • Soil: Medium
  • Wind tolerance: Average
  • Coastal tolerance: High