False Kava

False kava, aka False awa (Piper auritum)



  • Shrub-like plant that can grow to 6 m (19 ft) high.
  • Mistakenly planted as true kava (Piper methysticum). Leaves differ from true kava, which are smaller and darker green. False kava leaves are larger and lighter green.
  • Characteristic rootbeer or anise-like odor when leaves are crushed
  • Native to tropical America, the exact introduction histories for both species are unknown. It is believed to have been accidentally distributed or planted in Hawaii as true kava in the 1990s.


  • Thick growth and spreading root suckers displace other plants
  • Extremely difficult to control, as root pieces and stems re-grow when cut
  • Grows more than twice as fast and out-competes true kava plants
  • Harvesting and mixing false and true kava for exports and local sale vastly degrades the quality and value of the crop

In Hawaii:

  • Kauai: One population was treated at Kahili Mountain Resort, and there is a rumored population in Waimea. KISC is working to control this species and educate kava growers about this threat.
  • Oahu: There are 5 known plantings of false awa, all intentional ornamental plantings. There are no known naturalizing populations that OISC is aware of. OISC is working with HDOA to map, test control methods and assess as a potential target species. Landowners with false awa are encouraged to report the plants to OISC.
  • Maui: Populations known in Nahiku and Hana. Control by MISC not feasible. Landowners are asked to control where possible.
  • Molokai: None known.
  • Big Island: Presence/absence unknown.

For more information, see: