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Mvg 9 Melaleuca Forests and Woodlands

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MVG 9 - Melaleuca Forests and Woodlands

Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands north of Grafton, NSW (Photo: M. Fagg)


    • MVG 9 includes vegetation that has a canopy dominated by Melaleuca species with a forest or woodland habit.

    • Distributed in tropical northern Australia extending to warm temperate latitudes on sandplains or depositional plains and along eastern coastal and near coastal Australia in inundated areas e.g. along watercourses, in dune swales and swamps.

    • Occupies a range of wetland and riparian habitats (Beadle 1981).

    • Often occurs as small areas in mosaics of wetland vegetation types or as narrow bands fringing watercourses.

    • Fire-prone ecosystems in dry seasons.

Facts and figures

Major Vegetation Group

MVG 9 - Melaleuca Forests and Woodlands

Major Vegetation Subgroups

(number of NVIS descriptions)

15. Tropical sandplain woodlands WA, NT, QLD (299)

xx Tropical riparian forests WA, NT, QLD,

xx Tropical floodplain forests NT, QLD, possibly WA

xx Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands QLD, NSW

Typical NVIS structural formations

Open forest (mid, low)

Woodland (mid, low)

Open woodland (low)

Number of IBRA regions


Most extensive in IBRA region

Est. pre-1750 and present: Gulf Plains (Qld)

Estimated pre-1750 extent (km2)

106 057

Present extent (km2)

99 561

Area protected (km2)

10 023

Litchfield National Park, NT (Photo: NT, P & WC)

Structure and physiognomy

  • The tree canopy varies with hydrological conditions from 5 to 20 m tall. Canopy cover also varies from sparse in some savanna wetlands to dense in forested wetlands, where projective foliage cover may exceed 70% (Neldner et al. 2013).

  • Leaves in the canopy are sclerophyllous, vertically or obliquely oriented and range in size from nanophyll (0.25 – 2.5 cm2) to microphyll (22..5 – 20 cm2).

  • In tropical areas Eucalyptus, Corymbia or Terminalia species may occur as emergents or subdominants within the lower canopy (Neldner et al. 2013).

  • In temperate areas, sclerophyllous shrubs may occur in the understorey, depending on hydrological conditions and the density of the tree canopy (Keith 2004; Neldner et. al 2014).

  • The shrub layer in most forms of this MVG is sparse.

  • The ground layer can be dense to sparse and dominated by graminoids with forbs and ferns less frequent (Keith 2004; Neldner et al. 2013).

Indicative flora

  • Dominance by species of Melaleuca is the uniting feature of this subgroup, with a few such as Melaleuca quinquenervia, Melaleuca leucodendra and Melaleuca viridiflora widespread. However, species composition varies substantially and three subgroups are recognised.

    • Tropical sandplain woodlands are dominated by Melaleuca viridiflora or Melaleuca citrolens in pure stands or in various combinations with each other or Melaleuca foliolosa, Melaleuca stenostachya, Melaleuca acacioides, Melaleuca tamariscina or Melaleuca monantha. Emergents include species of Corymbia, Eucalyptus and Terminalia, while a shrub layer may include species of Melaleuca, Grevillea, Petalostigma and Acacia. The ground layer includes the graminoids from the genera Digitaria, Aristida, Fimbristylis, Eragrostis, Eriachne, Panicum, Rhynchospora Themeda, Schizachyrium and Heteropogon and forbs including species of Cheilanthes, Spermacoce, Phyllanthus, Drosera, Rhynchosia, Desmodium and Xyris.

    • Tropical riparian forests are dominated by Melaleuca argentea, Melaeuca cajuputi, Melaleuca leucadendra or Melaleuca fluviatilis along streams, sometimes with Casuarina cunninghamiana. Other woody plants include species of Acacia, Alphitonia, Atalaya, Barringtonia, Corymbia, Eucalyptus, Lophostemon, Ficus, Pandanus, Planchonia and Scolopia. The ground layer is open and grassy with species of Heteropogon, Cyperus, Eragrostis., Paspalidium, Arundinella, Panicum, Nelsonia, Achyranthes, Lomandra and Ludwigia octovalvis (Brock 2001; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Tropical floodplain forests are dominated by Melaleuca leucodendra, Melaleuca cajuputi, Melaleuca dealbata, Melaleuca saligna, Asteromyrtus symphyocarpa, while Melaleuca viridiflora or Melaleuca clarksonii dominate inland situations. Melaleuca quinquenervia is restricted to coastal areas on Cape York A sparse shrub layer may include species of Acacia, Ficus, Alphitonia, Glochidion, Callistemon, Leptospermum, Banksia or Cupaniopsis. The ground layer that includes graminoids such as Imperata cylindrica, Leersia hexandra, Schoenus sparteus, Cyperus haspan subsp. juncoides, Paspalum scrobiculatum, Sporobolus virginicus, Gahnia sieberiana, Pseudoraphis spinescens, Paspalidium distans and species of Scleria, Eragrostis and Fimbristylis. Forbs include Gymnanthera oblonga, Centella asiatica, Ludwigia octovalvis, Acrostichum speciosum and the fern Blechnum indicum, (Brock 2001; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands are dominated by Melaleuca quinquenervia with Lophostemon suaveolens, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus robusta, Casuarina glauca or Corymbia intermedia. Melaleuca dealbata and Melaleuca arcana occur at the tropical extent of the distribution, while Melaleuca linariifolia may occur in the south. A sparse shrub layer may include species of Acacia, Alphitonia, Banksia, Callistemon, Leptospermum, Glochidion or Cupaniopsis. The ground layer includes graminoids Baloskion pallens, Baloskion tetraphyllus, Baumea arthrophylla, Baumea rubiginosa, Cyperus polystachyos, Entolasia marginata, Gahnia clarkei, Imperata cylindrica, Paspalum scrobiculatum, Lepironia articulata, Leersia hexandra, Lomandra longifolia, Phragmites australis Schoenus brevifolius and Dianella caerulea. Forbs include Blechnum indicum, Parsonsia straminea, Pteridium esculentum, Lygodium microphyllum, Phaius australis and Centella asiatica (Keith 2004; Neldner et al. 2014).


  • In seasonally inundated wetlands, depositional plains, sandplain depressions and riparian zones of lowland landscapes (Keith 2004; Neldner et al. 2014).

  • Climatic conditions vary from tropical monsoonal to warm temperate with summer maximum rainfall, on average 800 - 2000 mm per annum.

  • Typically with deep sandy, organic soils, with low clay content.

  • Generally coastal or subcoastal landscapes.

  • Vegetation subgroups occur in different landscape contexts:

    • Tropical sandplain woodlands occur on sandy alluvial plains within savanna landscapes. The plains become waterlogged for periods of a few weeks during the monsoonal months and may be inundated for short periods. They are restricted to tropical climates (Beadle 1981; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Tropical riparian forests are restricted to corridors of riparian alluvium on tropical streams subject to regular flooding during the summer monsoons (Brock 2001; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Tropical floodplain forests occur in depressions and around billabongs on sandy floodplains in tropical climates (Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands occur in swales of coastal sandplains that are seasonally inundated by watertables that rise in response to summer rains. They span tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates (Keith 2004; Neldner et al. 2014).


  • Largely restricted to higher rainfall areas of tropical Australia, but extending down the east coast to warm temperate latitudes where it becomes increasingly restricted.

    • Tropical sandplain woodlands extend across the tropics through Western Australia and Northern Territory but are most extensive in north Queensland on southern Cape York (Beadle 1981; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Tropical riparian forests occur along streams from the north-western Kimberley in Western Australia to Cape York in Queensland (Brock 2001; Neldner et al. 2014).

    • Tropical floodplain forests occur in primarily in the Top End of the Northern Territory and around Cape York (Neldner et al. 2014). There may be small occurrences in the northern Kimberley region.

    • Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands extend from north-east Queensland to central New South Wales coast, becoming more restricted south from the Morton Bay region of south-east Queensland. These may occur in brackish as well as freshwater conditions (Keith 2004; Neldner et al. 2014).

  • Largest area occurs in Queensland (70 657 km2).


  • Approximately 6% of the estimated pre-1750 extent cleared accounting for 0.6% of total clearing in Australia.

  • Approximately 6 500 km2 cleared since European settlement.

  • In coastal areas in the subtropical and temperate portions of its distribution, MVG 9 has been extensively cleared and in-filled for coastal development, intensive agricultural development or urban expansion.

  • Coastal floodplains and associated sandplains have been the most targeted areas for intensive agriculture (cropping and grazing), particularly where the soils are rich in humus.

  • Many of the early settlers grew potatoes in the seasonally drier parts of melaleuca swamps to sustain their small settlements, but recent agricultural production is focussed on sugar cane, dairy and beef.

  • Urban expansion has occurred most rapidly on the coasts of southeast Queensland and northeast New south Wales.

  • Selected swamps have also been mined for peat and other materials used in horticulture.

  • Drainage of these systems has a high likelihood of disturbing acid sulphate soils, resulting in the liberation of organic acid compounds into waterways.

  • Areas have been cleared for grazing and cropping (e.g. for sugar cane on the Herbert floodplain).

  • Many melaleuca wetlands in coastal Queensland and northern New South Wales have been altered by changes to natural drainage patterns and waterway flows (e.g. construction of floodgates as part of floodplain management programs of the 1970s and 1980s).


Melaleuca Forests and Woodlands occur across a range of land tenures.

Northern Territory:

largely leasehold land, some in protected areas and on freehold land


largely leasehold land, then freehold land and protected area, some state forest and reserved crown land

New South Wales:


Western Australia:


Key values

  • Biodiversity including locally unique ecological communities and threatened species such as swamp orchids.

  • Ecosystem functions including primary production for aquatic food webs.

  • Drought refuges for water-dependent fauna.

  • Mitigation of acid sulphate soils.

  • Maintenance of water quality in streams and estuaries.

  • Flood mitigation and nutrient sinks—a key part of floodplain systems.

  • Honey and florist products—flowers and foliage.

List of key management issues

  • Maintenance of hydrological conditions that support these communities.

  • Clearing and edge effects from adjoining land uses in fragmented landscapes.

  • Isolation of fauna populations by barriers such as roads or powerlines.

  • Weed control (e.g. aggressive weeds such as arum lily).

  • Rehabilitation as part of improved floodplain management.

  • Long term monitoring to inform future management strategies.


Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (1990) Atlas of Australian Resources. Volume 6 Vegetation. AUSMAP, Department of Administrative Services, Canberra, 64pp. & 2 maps.

Beadle N.C.W. (1981) The Vegetation of Australia. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 690pp.

Boland D.J., Brooker M.I.H., Chippendale G.M., Hall N., Hyland B.P.M., Johnston R.D., Kleinig D.A., and Turner J.D. (1994) Forest Trees of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia

Keith D. (2004) Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes. The native vegetation of New South Wales and the ACT. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Hurstville.

Neldner, V.J., Niehus, R.E., Wilson, B.A., McDonald, W.J.F. and Ford, A.J. (2014). The Vegetation of Queensland. Descriptions of Broad Vegetation Groups. Version 1.1. Queensland Herbarium, Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts

National Land and Water Resources Audit (2001) Australian Native Vegetation Assessment 2001. National Land and Water Resources Audit, Canberra, 332pp.

Data sources

Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA), Version 6.1.

Land Tenure in Australia's Rangelands (1955 to 2000), National Land and Water Resources Audit.

National Vegetation Information System, Version 4.1

1996/97 Land Use of Australia, Version 2.

Collaborative Australian Protected Areas Database – CAPAD 2004 – Terrestrial.

Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage; online at URL: .


  • Additional areas of this group were identified in the Northern Territory arising from improved NVIS data.

  • See the Introduction to the MVG fact sheets for further background on this series.

Tropical floodplain forests Nourlangie, Kakadu National Park, NT (Photo: M. Fagg)

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