wetlands in Western Australia
Wetland vegetation and flora, part 1:
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
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 www.dec.wa.gov.au/wetlandsguide.
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 www.dec.wa.gov.au/wetlandsguide.
Contents of the guide
Introduction to the guide
Wetland management planning
Funding, training and resources
Chapter 2: Understanding wetlands
Conditions in wetland waters
Wetland vegetation and fl ora
Managing wetland vegetation
Nuisance midges and mosquitoes
Introduced and nuisance animals
Chapter 4: Monitoring 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’ 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.
Department of Environment and Conservation (florabase.dec.wa.gov.au/help/copyright).
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.
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
Saline wetland vegetation
Rare plant communities
Patterns of diversity of wetland vegetation and flora
Rare wetland flora
Western Australia referred to in this topic
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
Profile of a wetland complex: Yalgorup National Park wetlands (Part 5)
Profile of a wetland complex: Brixton Street Wetlands (Part 5)
Wetland plants are plants that inhabit wetlands. Wetlands are, in summary, areas subject
to permanent, seasonal or intermittent inundation or seasonal waterlogging (Figure 1,
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,
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
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’.
(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.
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
In most cases this will require a survey to be done, once informed by existing
, 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
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
(the singular being taxon).
Depending on the context,
this may be a species or their
varieties etc), genus or higher
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
• Forty-six of the 402
declared rare flora in WA occur in wetlands.
priority species in WA occur in wetlands.
threatened ecological communities
reliant on vascular plant taxa (see Table 2 for more information).
(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.
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 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