Australia's Plants

Wildflowers, Alice Springs, NT © Claire Takacs 2010

Australia's Plants

There are an estimated 27,700 plant species in Australia, including living fossils such as the cycad palm and the grass tree, and brilliant wildflowers such as the waratah, Sturt’s desert pea, banksia and kangaroo paws.

We also have around 2800 species of eucalypts (gum trees), and 1000 species of acacia, which we call ‘wattle’. The Golden Wattle is Australia’s floral emblem. Eucalypts make up almost 80 per cent of our forests. Acacias, melaleuca (tea tree), casuarinas (she-oaks), callitris (cypress pine), mangrove and rainforests make up the other 20 per cent.

Forests
Forests

Forests

Australia’s tallest trees can be found in the south-west of Western Australia in the Valley of the Giants. Giant tuart, karri, and rich red jarrah which live for up to 500 years can be found here. The 1000 kilometre Bibbulmun Track traverses a variety of jarrah, marri, wandoo, karri and tingle forests as well as internationally significant wetlands.

The cool temperate rainforest of the World Heritage-listed Tasmanian wilderness contains some of the oldest trees on the planet including the rare Huon Pine.

The majestic Wollemi pine is a remnant from a 200 million year-old landscape, when Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica were joined together as the supercontinent Gondwana. It was thought to have been extinct for millions of years, until rediscovered by a bushwalker in 1994. Fewer than 100 trees exist in the wild, growing in the deep rainforest gorges of the Greater Blue Mountains.

Eucalypts
Eucalypts

Eucalypts

Gum trees (eucalypts) are the tree most commonly associated with Australia. They are found in areas from sub-alpine to wet coastal forests, through to temperate woodlands and the dry inland areas. The Greater Blue Mountains has the most diverse range of eucalypt species on earth. In fact, the Blue Mountains gets its name from the blue shimmer which rises into the air from the oil from the trees. In the Australian Alps, striking silver and red snow gums stand out amongst the snow-filled landscape. In South Australia’s Flinders Ranges ancient river red gums live in the dry creek beds. Koalas feed exclusively on certain species of eucalypts.

Rainforests
Rainforests

Rainforests

Rainforest once covered most of the ancient southern super-continent Gondwana, and there are primitive plants found in these forests that are linked to those growing more than 100 million years ago. Australia’s rainforests stretch across the country and cover every climatic type. The Daintree Rainforest in north Queensland is the oldest tropical rainforest on earth, dating back 135 million years. An extraordinary 13 different types of rainforest can be found here. The Gondwana Rainforests of South East Queensland and northern New South Wales include the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world along with cool temperate rainforest. Pockets of dry rainforest live in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. There are monsoon rainforests in Kakadu National Park and lush fern gullies in Victoria’s Otway Ranges.

Wetlands
Wetlands

Wetlands

Wetlands attract high numbers of migratory birds in Kakadu National Park and The UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve-listed Croajingolong National Park and Nadgee Nature Reserve in south-eastern Australia. Australia was one of the first countries to become a signatory to the Ramsar Convention for Wetlands of International Importance and the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory, was declared the world’s first Ramsar site in 1974. Australia now has 65 Ramsar sites across the country covering around 8 million hectares.

Wildflowers
Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Wildflowers, including everlasting daisies, turn the arid and savanna grassland areas of Australia into carpets of colour in season. From June until September more than 12000 species of wildflower can be seen blooming across Western Australia. From late August to mid-October more than 100 varieties of wildflower can be seen on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, many unique to the island. In the Australian Alps, alpine meadows explode in masses of yellow billy buttons, pink trigger plants and silver and white snow daisies, once the snow melts.

Australia’s unique flora also includes the Proteaceae family of Banksia (bottlebrush), Grevillea and Telopea (waratah). Around 80 per cent of the plants and almost all of the Proteaceae species found in south-west Western Australia are not found anywhere else in the world. The heathlands along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria are one of the most orchid-rich sites in Australia.

Wildflowers are protected species in Australia, so don’t be tempted to pick them!

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