Guide to managing and restoring

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A guide to managing and restoring 

wetlands in Western Australia

Wetland vegetation and flora, part 1:


In Chapter 2:  Understanding wetlands


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Introduction to the guide

Western Australia’s unique and diverse wetlands are rich in ecological and cultural values 

and form an integral part of the natural environment of the state. A guide to managing 

and restoring wetlands in Western Australia (the guide) provides information about the 

nature of WA’s wetlands, and practical guidance on how to manage and restore them for 

nature conservation. 

The focus of the guide is natural ‘standing’ wetlands that retain conservation value. 

Wetlands not addressed in this guide include waterways, estuaries, tidal and artifi cial 


The guide consists of multiple topics within fi ve chapters. These topics are available in 

PDF format free of charge from the Western Australian Department of Environment and 

Conservation (DEC) website at 

The guide is a DEC initiative. Topics of the guide have predominantly been prepared by 

the department’s Wetlands Section with input from reviewers and contributors from a 

wide range of fi elds and sectors. Through the guide and other initiatives, DEC seeks to 

assist individuals, groups and organisations to manage the state’s wetlands for nature 


The development of the guide has received funding from the Australian Government, the 

Government of Western Australia, DEC and the Department of Planning. It has received 

the support of the Western Australian Wetlands Coordinating Committee, the state’s 

peak wetland conservation policy coordinating body.

For more information about the guide, including scope, purpose and target audience, 

please refer to the topic ‘Introduction to the guide’.

DEC welcomes your feedback and suggestions on the guide. A publication feedback 

form is available from the DEC website at


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Contents of the guide


Introduction to the guide

Chapter 1: Planning for wetland management

Wetland management planning

Funding, training and resources


Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

Wetland hydrology

Conditions in wetland waters

Wetland ecology

Wetland vegetation and fl ora

Chapter 3: Managing wetlands 

Managing hydrology

Wetland weeds

Water quality

Secondary salinity

Phytophthora dieback

Managing wetland vegetation

Nuisance midges and mosquitoes

Introduced and nuisance animals



Chapter 4: Monitoring wetlands

Monitoring wetlands

Chapter 5: Protecting wetlands

Roles and responsibilities

Legislation and policy

These topics are available in PDF format free of charge from the DEC website at


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

‘Wetland vegetation and flora’ topic 


Authors: Greg Keighery, DEC, Bronwen Keighery, Office of the Environmental Protection 

Authority and Vanda Longman, DEC

Editor: Justine Lawn, DEC

Reviewers and contributors

Dr Ken Atkins, DEC, was consulted in the development of this topic. His valuable 

contribution, and those people who have contributed their photos, is gratefully 


Project manager: Justine Lawn, DEC

Publication management: Joanna Moore, DEC

Graphic design: Sonja Schott, DEC

Cover photo: Manning Lake, Cockburn, courtesy of Prof. Jenny Davis.

FloraBase images used with the permission of the Western Australian Herbarium, 

Department of Environment and Conservation (

Recommended reference 

When referring to the guide in its entirety, the recommended reference is: Department 

of Environment and Conservation (2012). A guide to managing and restoring wetlands 

in Western Australia. Department of Environment and Conservation, Perth, Western 


When specific reference is made to this topic, the recommended reference is: 

Department of Environment and Conservation (2012). ‘Wetland vegetation and flora’, 

in A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia, Prepared by G 

Keighery, B Keighery and V Longman, Department of Environment and Conservation, 

Perth, Western Australia.


While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this 

publication is correct, the information is only provided as a guide to management and 

restoration activities. DEC does not guarantee, and accepts no liability whatsoever arising 

from, or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material 

contained in this guide. This topic was substantially completed by November 2010 

therefore new information that may have come to light between the completion date 

and publication date has not been captured in this topic.


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia


Part 1: Overview – this PDF



What is covered in this topic?  


What is the current knowledge of WA’s wetland vegetation and flora?  


How is wetland vegetation and flora identified?  


Sources of information on wetland vegetation and flora  


Some notes on terminology used in this topic  


Western Australia’s wetland vegetation  


Saline wetland vegetation  


Freshwater vegetation  


Rare plant communities  


Western Australia’s wetland flora  


Patterns of diversity of wetland vegetation and flora  


Rare wetland flora  


Western Australia’s wetland vegetation zones:  

the Kimberley, Deserts and Southwest  


Glossary for parts 1–5  


References for parts 1–5  


Appendix 1. Native wetland vascular plant taxa of  

Western Australia referred to in this topic  


Appendix 2. Native wetland vascular plant taxa of the southern  

Swan Coastal Plain (Moore River–Dunsborough) referred to in this topic,  

or otherwise common to theregion  


Appendix 3. Data used in graphs and charts in this topic  


Part 2: Kimberley – separate PDF

Part 3: Deserts – separate PDF

Part 4: Southwest – separate PDF

Part 5: Southern Swan Coastal Plain – separate PDF

Wetland profiles

Profile of a wetland complex: Yalgorup National Park wetlands (Part 5)

Profile of a wetland complex: Brixton Street Wetlands (Part 5)


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Introduction to wetland vegetation and flora

Wetland plants are plants that inhabit wetlands. Wetlands are, in summary, areas subject 

to permanent, seasonal or intermittent inundation or seasonal waterlogging (Figure 1, 

Figure 2). 

Wetland vegetation refers more broadly to the combinations of wetland plants in a 

given area, while wetland flora refers more specifically to the wetland plant species

subspecies and varieties in a given area.

Vegetated wetland ecosystems are characteristic of Western Australia. This is despite 

the perceived and actual dryness of most of the state, of which more than 40 per cent is 

desert receiving less than 250 millimetres of annual rainfall. WA’s environment supports a 

diverse range of wetland plants and plant communities. The reasons for this include the 

diverse ancient flora (a product of old landscapes and diverse geologies and soils) and the 

huge diversity among wetlands across the state.

Vegetation: the combinations 

of plant species within a given 

area, and the nature and extent 

of each area



Flora: the plant species, 

subspecies and varieties in a 

given area


Community: a general term 

applied to any grouping 

of populations of different 

organisms found living together 

in a particular environment 

Before you begin


Before embarking on management and restoration investigations and 

activities, you must consider and address the legal requirements, safety 

considerations, cultural issues and the complexity of the ecological 

processes which occur in wetlands to ensure that any proposed actions 

are legal, safe and appropriate. Note that the collection of flora, even for 

conservation purposes, must be consistent with state laws, and is likely to 

require a license from DEC. For more guidance, see the topic ‘Introduction 

to the guide’.


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Figure 1. Wetland plants in two contrasting wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain. 

(a) A claypan in the inundated phase with emergent Melaleuca rhaphiophylla trees and 

aquatics. Photo – G Keighery/DEC. 

(b) A seasonally waterlogged wetland with Melaleuca preissiana tree. Photo – B Keighery/


Figure 2. The highly diverse saline and freshwater wetlands and wetland plant communities 

of Leeman Lagoons, east of Leeman (Geraldton Sandplain). This complex of mostly saline 

wetlands supports Casuarina obesa forest, Melaleuca cuticularis forest and samphire 

shrublands. Freshwater seepages form patches of freshwater wetlands within the complex. 

Photo – B Keighery/OEPA.


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

What is covered in this topic?

This topic describes the nature, characteristics and distribution of vascular vegetation 

and flora of WA’s natural, non-flowing wetlands. 

There are five parts to this topic. The first part introduces wetland vegetation and flora in 

a Western Australian context; and broadly describes the characteristics of WA’s wetland 

vegetation and flora respectively (part 1). The second, third and fourth parts describe in 

detail the wetland vegetation and flora features of three zones: the Kimberley (part 2), 

the Deserts (part 3) and the Southwest (part 4). The fifth part of this topic provides more 

detailed information on the wetland vegetation and flora of the southern Swan Coastal 

Plain (part 5).

More than 500 wetland native vascular plant taxa are referred to in this topic. All 500 

taxa are listed in Appendix 1 (in part 1) along with their family, common name, state 

and federal conservation ranking and which wetland zone (Kimberley/Desert/Southwest) 

they are discussed in within this topic (some taxa are found in more than one zone). Only 

widely used common names are used in the text for this topic.

This topic also includes photographs of more than 200 wetland taxa. Appendix 1 can be 

used to look up the figure numbers for the relevant photos for each taxon. 

Wetland vegetation is highly variable, both within and between wetlands, and WA 

is a very large place, so while this topic can serve as a guide, any wetland-specific 

management should be supported by specific information on the wetland’s vegetation 

and flora.


 In most cases this will require a survey to be done, once informed by existing 

information on similar wetlands. Keighery


, together with Lyons et al.


, are useful guides 

to conducting a quadrat-based vegetation and flora survey of a wetland. 

What is not covered in this topic?

Non-vascular flora including algae, mosses and liverworts are not covered in this topic, 

nor are cyanobacteria, fungi and freshwater sponges. Similarly, the ecological roles, 

adaptations and ecological water requirements of vascular wetland plants are not 

covered in this topic.

The guide does not cover marine and coastal zone wetlands (marine waters, coral 

reefs, estuarine, intertidal mud or sand flats, intertidal marshes and forests), human 

made wetlands (dams, ponds, waste-water treatment plants, canals, irrigated land) and 

channel wetlands such as rivers and streams. However, in many locations estuarine and 

riverine vegetation merges with other wetland systems and these are considered here. 

Some of the characteristics and management considerations outlined in this topic may 

also be common to these systems. 

For information on cyanobacteria, freshwater sponges and algae; and on the 

ecological roles, adaptations and ecological water requirements of wetland plants, see 

the topic ‘Wetland ecology’ in Chapter 2.

See the topic ‘Wetland weeds’ in Chapter 3 for details on weeds and their control. 

For information on waterway vegetation, see the Department of Water’s website, 

which provides resources such as the River restoration manual: a guide to the nature, 

protection, rehabilitation and long-term management of waterways in Western 



Vascular plants: plants with 

defined tubular transport 

systems. Non-vascular plants 

include algae, liverworts and 


Taxa: a taxonomic group 

(the singular being taxon). 

Depending on the context, 

this may be a species or their 

subdivisions (subspecies, 

varieties etc), genus or higher 




  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

What is the current knowledge of WA’s wetland 

vegetation and flora?

To date, no comprehensive state, regional or sub-regional review of wetland vegetation 

and flora in WA has been published. This first review of the state’s wetland vegetation 

and flora has been compiled by reviewing published and unpublished literature and using 

this, together with more than forty years of field experience working on the vegetation 

and flora of WA. The literature reviewed includes regional floras and reports on individual 

wetlands and wetland groups. Only those sources from which information is directly 

cited are referenced. A large number of other sources have been perused but, as much 

of this information is of a general nature, these are not given. Examples of these sources 

include Halse et al.


, Ground Water Consulting Services Pty. Ltd.


 and Henry-Hall et al.


No comprehensive list of WA’s wetland flora currently exists. WA has a huge diversity of 

wetland plants and plant communities, and many of these require better documentation 

of their flora and vegetation. It is estimated that more than twenty per cent (3,000 taxa) 

of the currently known 12,500 flora for WA are wetland taxa, compared to the 2,000 

estimated in 2001.


 From the work done on wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain over the 

past twenty years, it is certain that a large number of plants and plant communities are 

yet to be located and described from WA’s saline and freshwater wetlands. An unusual 

wetland at Point Ann in Fitzgerald River National Park (Figure 3), first noted in 2010, well 

illustrates this. 

Figure 3. A hillside wetland community in Fitzgerald River National Park (Esperance Sandplains) 

at Point Ann, dominated by wind-shaped prostrate Melaleuca cuticularis. It is unusual, being a 

coastal saline paluslope. Photos – B Keighery/OEPA. 

(a) View of headland and community. (b) and (c) Melaleuca cuticularis fruit and plant.


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

As with dryland flora, the scientific documentation and study of wetland flora across the 

state’s 2.5 million square kilometres continues. With WA recognised as possessing one 

of the most diverse and unique floras in the world, this is not a simple task. In particular, 

the isolated south-western corner of WA, with its Mediterranean climate, is considered 

among the world’s thirty-four plant biodiversity hot spots.


 Remote areas also present 

many new discoveries as well as challenges for researchers. There has been a steady 

growth in the scientific discovery of new vascular (i.e. families other than those of the 

algae, liverworts, mosses etc) plant taxa over the last century; from 4,166 recorded in 

1912, to 5,802 in 1969, and in 2011, an amazing 11,034 – of which more than 60 per 

cent of the species are endemic to WA, indicating the unique nature of WA’s flora.


For more information on flora research, see the web page of the WA Herbarium.


How is wetland vegetation and flora identified?

Wetland plants can be discussed in terms of whether or not they are aquatic. Aquatic 

plants tend to be widely recognised as wetland plants, while non-aquatic wetland plants, 

because they do not grow in inundated areas, tend to be less well recognised. 

While there is no comprehensive list of all of WA’s aquatic plant species, there is general 

agreement as to what constitutes an aquatic plant, being a plant that grows for some 

period of time in inundated conditions and is dependent on a given inundation regime to 

grow and flower (including species that flower in waterlogged soils following inundation) 

(Figure 4 and Figure 5). Wetlands that are inundated for a period of time—whether 

permanently, seasonally or intermittently—provide suitable habitat for aquatic plants. 

All aquatic wetland plants are considered to be wetland obligate, that is, they are 

generally restricted to wetlands under natural conditions in a particular setting. Common 

descriptions of aquatic plants include ‘submerged’, ‘floating’ and ‘emergent’; these 

terms refer to the position of the plant relative to the water’s surface. ‘Macrophyte’ is 

another common term, referring to aquatic vascular plants as distinct from other aquatic 

organisms including algae, cyanobacteria, mosses, liverworts and fungi. 

Endemic: naturally occurring 

only in a restricted geographic 



•  It is estimated that wetland taxa form more than 20 per cent, or 3,000 

of WA’s approximate 12,500 flora.

•  Forty-six of the 402


 declared rare flora in WA occur in wetlands.

•  More than 270 of the 2,704


 priority species in WA occur in wetlands.

•  Thirty-seven of WA’s sixty-nine


 threatened ecological communities 

(TECs) are wetland communities; of these thirty-three are defined or 

reliant on vascular plant taxa (see Table 2 for more information).



  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Figure 4. Claypan (sumpland) in the Tuart Forest on the Swan Coastal Plain with fringing 

Melaleuca rhaphiophylla trees. Photos – B Keighery/OEPA. 

(a) Filled with rainwater in winter (growing in the water are the grass Amphibromus nervosus 

and the sedge Eleocharis keigheryi). 

(b) Summer view of dry claypan and exposed clay base that forms the water impeding layer. 

Figure 5. Aquatic taxa in a Swan Coastal Plain claypan. Aquatic taxa form 61 per cent of the 

southern Swan Coastal Plain’s wetland flora. 

(a) Inundated claypan emergent Melaleuca rhaphiophylla trees. Photo – G Keighery/DEC. 

(b) Aponogeton hexatepalus flowers. Photo – B Keighery/OEPA. 

(c) Aponogeton hexatepalus (long leaves) and Hydrocotyle lemnoides (kidney-shaped leaves). 

Photo – G Keighery/DEC.


  Wetland vegetation and flora

Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands

A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia

Wetland plants that are not aquatic are sometimes mistakenly identified as dryland 

plants. Non-aquatic wetland plants grow in wetland areas that are seasonally 

waterlogged rather than inundated. These areas may be on the outer edges of, or 

higher areas within, a wetland that holds surface water permanently, seasonally or 

intermittently. Alternatively, the waterlogged area may be a stand-alone wetland, one 

that is entirely waterlogged on a seasonal basis, such as a dampland or palusplain. Many 

of WA’s non-aquatic wetland plants are wetland obligate, that is, only found in wetlands 

in a given setting. However, some non-aquatic wetland plants are considered to be 

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