Kawakawa making a splash

Piper excelsum ‘‘Variegatum’’. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Piper excelsum ‘‘Variegatum’’. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Kawakawa is one of the most beloved New Zealand plants for rongoa - the leaves, fruits and roots all have powerful medicinal properties.

Piper excelsum "Variegatum" is a kawakawa with a difference - the usual heart-shaped, dark green leaves are splashed with white.

It is not surprising that a group of these shrubs at the botanic garden has been catching people’s eyes. Bi-coloured leaves are all the rage, if the popularity of houseplants with this characteristic, known as "variegation", is anything to go by.

Kawakawa is not often seen this far south as it is outside its natural range. However, it can grow really well in our southern climate. It likes a well-drained, rich soil and is quite dry and shade-tolerant.

Crucially, it must be protected from frost. Sheltered spots under trees are perfect. Kawakawa can grow to 4m or 5m tall but are easily trimmed to keep within the scale of your garden.

When designing with variegated plants, less is more. Use them as accents or to contrast with other evergreens. They are great for brightening up a dark corner.

The group shown in the picture pops out against a shady background of ferns and other dark foliage.

There are plenty of kawakawa growing throughout the native plant collection, but only a few are variegated.

Look for them not far from the daffodil lawn in the upper botanic garden, near the group of huge pine trees.

Garden Life is produced by the Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information, contact Kate Caldwell.

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