The antisocial moth plant
Moth plant is a real antisocial climber.
Hailing from South America, moth plant is a rampant evergreen vine capable of climbing high into the canopy of tall trees.
Once there, it forms huge, heavy, long-lived masses.
Moth plant seeds are spread by wind and can travel long distances.
Besides being very invasive, this plant has stems which exude a smelly and sticky white sap which can severely irritate people’s skin and eyes.
Also known as kapok vine, mothvine, milkvine, milk weed, wild choko vine, and cruel plant, moth plant has grown throughout the Waikato and is most commonly found in urban areas with scattered infestation across the region.
The ‘‘cruel plant’’ name used by some is probably because its flowers can trap and kill insects like moths, butterflies and bees.
Moth plant has large, green, pear-shaped pods containing white fluffy seeds but, in December, the vines are a mass of waxy white flowers, sometimes tinged with pink.
It is officially designated an unwanted organism banned from sale, distribution and propagation in New Zealand and, in the Waikato, landowners are required to destroy it where they find it on their properties.
When getting rid of it, people should wear gloves given how the sap can irritate bare skin.
It’s best to attack plants before seed pods form by either pulling the vines out by the roots or treating the stems with a suitable herbicide to kill the vines – visit Waikato Regional Council’s website for more information on control methods.
Any pods that do form need to be disposed of at a landfill for deep burial.
Revisit controlled sites regularly to check for any new seedlings or vine regrowth.
Replanting sites with more desirable species is a good idea. Some nice native climbers that can be used for this are puawananga and star jasmine.
The Moth plant is designated as an ‘unwanted organism’ in New Zealand.