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Have you seen False kava (Piper auritum)?
Hawaii Early Detection Network Priority Pest for Kauai


False kava flower
False kava has tightly-packed flowers that form a long, arching white spike.

Some false kava stems are red and the leaves have a red tint.
False kava plant
False kava leaves have a pinnate vein pattern and unequally lobed base.
Images: Forest & Kim Starr

Identification: False kava is a shrub-like plant ranging 3' to 6' tall with upper branches that extend in a noticeably horizontal pattern. The light green leaves of this plant are large and have a pinnate vein pattern with unequally lobed bases. The leaves have a dense margin of short hairs along the edge. When the leaves are crushed there is a root beer or aniselike odor. Some false kava leaves might have a red tint to the main vein. Opposite of the leaves are spikes of tightly-packed flowers in a long, single, arching spike. The flower spike is white to pale green.
Impacts: False kava has thick growth habit and spreading root suckers which displace other plants. Since it can be easily confused with true kava it is sometimes mistakenly interplanted, which then threatens the purity and preservation of true kava, vastly decreasing the value of the crop and the quality of the product. False kava does not have the same medicinal properties as true kava. False kava grows twice as fast as true kava and quickly takes over the habitat.
Dispersal Mechanism: False kava is spread by humans who mistakenly plant it as true kava. Seeds are dispersed by birds and possibly bats. Plants also spread rapidly by suckers. Small pieces of root, leaves, and stems can reproduce into new plants, making control difficult.
Origin, Distribution, and Habitat: False kava is native to South and Central America. The plant was introduced to Hawai'i accidentally as true kava. False kava is currently found on Maui, O'ahu, and Kaua'i. The invasion on Kaua'i is limited to two known populations: in Kahili Mountain Park, Waiakoloa in the Kilauea area. Please report any new sightings of this pest to stop its spread!

More information about this pest external link


False kava look-alikes:


Kava and false kava leaf comparison

True kava has a palmate vein pattern and false kava has a pinnate vein pattern.

True kava, 'awa (Piper methysticum):
True kava is in the same family as false kava but has medicinal attributes that false kava lacks. True kava can be distinguished from false kava by its smaller, darker leaves which have equally-lobed bases. True kava also has a palmate vein pattern on the leaves.

True kava plant

True kava has equally lobed leaves.

Last Updated: Friday November 02 2012. If you have any questions about the Hawaii Early Detection Network contact reportapest-maui@lists.hawaii.edu.
Funding and support for this project was made possible by the Hawai'i Invasive Species Council, the USDA Forest Service State and Private Forestry assistance, and University of Hawai'i-Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.