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Moth Plant
Mar 2, 2005
Author: Tim Senior, Plant Pest Officer, Environment Bay of Plenty

Moth Plant (Araujia sericifera) got its name because moths and butterflies were so attracted to it. It got one of its alternative names, cruel plant, because the feeding parts of the moths and butterflies become stuck in its sticky flower and the insects die as a result.

Moth plant is easy to spot at this time of year as it is smothered with white, starry flowers, each about 20mm across. Later in the year these flowers will produce large, pear-shaped, fist-sized pods that look like small chokos. Inside, the fluffy white down attached to each seed gives the plant another common name, kapok vine.

Moth plant is an invasive, twining vine. It has wavy, leathery leaves, dark green above and paler underneath. All parts of the plant exude a milky sap when cut which can cause skin irritation. When ripe, the seed pods split open and the seeds can be blown great distances in the wind, like thistledown. Seeds blown some 20 kilometres from Northland have colonised the Poor Knights Islands.

Eventually the vine forms a blanket of foliage smothering its host plants, and therein lies its undesirable ecological significance. In the Opotiki district, it is commonly found scrambling over sand dune plants and invading orchard shelterbelts where it can climb to quite a height. Itís increasingly found in regenerating bush.

Introduced from South America as an ornamental plant during the 1880ís, moth plant has the potential to become one of our most serious weeds. Luckily herbicide control is not difficult and young plants are easily dug out. If you would like some specific herbicide recommendations, please give Environment Bay of Plenty a call.