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Moth plant

Moth plant header

Other common names: kapok vine and cruel plant

progressive containment

Moth plant

Other common names: kapok vine and cruel plant

Progressive containment

Reduce the amount of moth plant and limit the locations that have it.

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Why it is a pest plant


Identifying Features
Production threat Environmental threat Public threat

Identifying features – Moth plant

Moth plant is an evergreen vine climbing up to 6m high. The plant looks different with age: slender young vines become woody as the plant matures andstarts to branch out.


  • Clusters of small cream to pink tubular shaped flowersbetween December and May.


  • Large choko-like fruit containing seeds attached tosilky threads.
  • Fruit can release a milk-like, skin-irritating sap whenbroken.
  • The fruit contains seeds which are poisonous if eaten.


  • Smooth dark green leaves on the upper side, downygreyish-green on the underside.
  • Downy, flexible, twining stems contain a milky sap.

Native to the western and central Mediterranean, moth plant was introduced into New Zealand as an ornamental species during the 1880s. It’s well-established in the Auckland region and common in parts of the Waikato. It is established in Hamilton and many northern parts of the region including parts of the Coromandel.

Moth plant is a fast-growing vine that can rapidly smother and replacenative vegetation. It invades disturbed or low canopy forest, forestmargins and coastal areas. It is also a problem in urban reserves and gardens where it can spread quickly. Butterflies, moths and bees are attracted to its flowers and become trapped in them, hence the common name, ‘cruel plant’.

Moth plant grows from a short taproot (main root) and other weak shallow roots. It prefers loose, fertile soils in warm, wet areas. The plant spreads mainly by wind borne seeds. When the fruit dries out and splits open, it releases large numbers of seeds attached to silky threads. Look out for them during summer and autumn. Moth plant seeds are poisonousand pods and stems contain a milky sap which irritates some people’sskin, so take care when removing this plant.

Responsibility for control

All landowners/occupiers in the Waikato are responsible for controllingmoth plant on their properties. Moth plant is also banned from being sold,propagated, distributed or included in commercial displays.

How to control moth plant

Make sure you wear gloves, as the sap can irritate the skin.

Physical control

Best results are achieved between December and February before podsare produced.


  • Pull out seedlings. Hoe or dig out mature plants, removing as manyroots as possible.
  • Leave any detached vines in the host tree to wither and die
  • Remove any seed pods and take them to a refuse transfer station toprevent further spread. Do not burn the pods.
  • Revisit the site after three to five days when missed plants will beobvious. Dig out any remaining vines.


Herbicide control

Remove all seed pods from the vine before using herbicide. Don’t burn them – and don’t compost them or leave them lying around, as the seeds might spread. Take them to a refuse transfer station instead.

Cut vine treatment (for smaller infestations)

Cut stems 20cm above the ground, then coat the stem and hanging ends liberallywith herbicide. Herbicide must be applied immediately after the cut is made. Some herbicides are available in a bottle or gel form, making application easy and convenient.To purchase the herbicide, visit your local hardware, rural supply store or garden centre.

Spray application (for larger infestations)

Spray the plant and totally cover leaf surfaces with herbicide. Apply the herbicide carefully to avoid serious damage to other plants you want to keep. Apply during the active growing season (spring to autumn) for best results.

Safety when using herbicides

  • Follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label.
  • Always wear protective clothing.
  • Always minimise the risk to your other plants.
  • Contact the supplier for further advice.

Summary of herbicides and application methods for control



Picloram (gel) Cut vine treatment.
Glyphosate Cut vine treatment.
Banvine® Cut vine treatment/knapsack application.
Metsulfuron Spray application – knapsack or handgun.
Triclopyr/picloram mix Spray application – knapsack or handgun.
Triclopyr Cut vine treatment/spray application.
Clopyralid Spray application.
Herbicide rules will apply. You may need to notify neighbours if spraying. The Waikato Regional Plan explains the agrichemical (herbicides) use rule in section 6.2.
If applying herbicide over water, a resource consent may be required. Please check with Waikato Regional Council before you begin.


After initial control, it’s important to:

  • clean out the site again at least annually to control regrowth
  • in pastures, apply fertiliser then over-sow with a clover/grass mix
  • lift the fertility of the site, which may help prevent seedling growth.

More information


  • For advice and additional information on control methods, call our pest plant staff on freephone 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732).
  • Chemical company representatives, farm supply stores and garden centres can also be good sources for advice.


View, download or order the following publications or call our freephone 0800 800 401.

  • National Pest Plant Accord (Manual of plants banned from sale, propagation and distribution) ($10.00 plus GST)
  • Plant Me Instead! (Plants to use in place of common pest plants) (free)
  • Waikato Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP) (free) (Section 5.3, page 46)
  • Waikato Regional Council pest guide (free)

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