Flora of King Island

The King Island Flora: a field guide (2002) – $15.00. This easy to use guide with wonderful photographs of King Island plants can be purchased from Currie Newsagency, The Trend, or KINRMG (by post or from KINRMG office).

An addendum has been published and is available for free from KINRM or KIRDO, 5 George Street.

The Native Vegetation of King Island, Bass Strait– a guide to the identification, conservation status and management of the island’s native vegetation and threatened plant species (2002) can be downloaded, or purchased from KINRM.

Native Vegetation

King Island’s native vegetation is important for the protection of many plant and animal species.
The native vegetation of King Island provides homes to:

  • 350 species of plants including 40 species that are considered rare or threatened,
  • ten species of mammal, nine reptiles, six amphibians, several fish, and,
  • well over 100 bird species.

Of course native vegetation also improves water quality, provides shelter to stock and pasture, and is an important part of the scenic character of King Island – benefiting residents, tourists and property values!

Only about one third of King Island is still covered in native vegetation.

Three quarters of the remaining native vegetation on King Island is on private property.

Private land owners on King Island have a special role in undertaking the care and protection of native vegetation.

Native Vegetation Communities on King Island

King Island has 28 broadly defined native vegetation communities, including forest and woodland communities, scrubs, grasslands, heathlands, wetlands, spray zone coastal complex and salt marsh.

Much of the island’s open flat to undulating plains would have once supported dense forest, woodland, scrub and heath communities but now little native vegetation remains, except in the island’s far north-east and south where areas of relatively pristine vegetation can still be found.

Tall wet sclerophyll forest dominated by Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus ssp. globulus, was once widespread on the plateau in the island’s south-east, but most has been cleared for farming. There now only remains a relatively small number of eucalypt dominated forest remnants on King Island. These E. globulus ssp. globulus and Brooker’s gum, E. brookeriana, dominated remnants generally feature an understorey of wet sclerophyll species e.g. manfern, Dicksonia antarctica, rough dogwood, Pomaderris apetala, tea-trees, Leptospermum scoparium and paperbarks e.g. Melaleuca ericifolia, and M. squarrosa.

These communities provide nesting sites for the white-bellied sea eagle and habitat for various animals such as the echidna, the lesser long-eared bat, long-nosed potoroo, and many different birds like the golden whistler, Tasmanian thornbill, various honeyeaters and the yellow-tailed black cockatoo.

Dry heathy forest dominated by white gum, E. viminalis ssp. viminalis, occurs on nutrient poor sandy soils near the coast.

Blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon, forests occur locally on the incised banks of major streams, and represent the wettest community on the island. Swamp paperbark, Melaleuca ericifolia, dominated forests occur in areas of poor drainage, heavy soils and with a low fire frequency. These forests have a dense canopy growing generally 10 to 25 metres, with single trees often reaching more than 30 metres high. The species diversity can be low because of the dense canopy. The shrub layer may include the rare and protected austral mulberry, Hedycarya angustifolia; blueberry ash, Elaeocarpus reticulatus; and a species rare on the island musk daisy bush, Olearia argopyhlla.

These forest communities provide habitat for fauna such as the common brushtail possum, eastern pygmy possum, the rare brown thornbill, southern boobook and many other birds.

Scrub dominated by Leptospermum or Melaleuca species is geographically widespread on poorly drained siliceous sites in the island’s interior, and is generally an early successional stage of forest on more fertile substrates. Fire plays an important role in
determining both the structure and floristic composition of scrub vegetation. Shrub species such as necklace sheoak, Allocasuarina monilifera; silver banksia, Banksia marginata; manuka, Leptospermum scoparium, and scented paper-bark, Melaleuca squarrosa, store their seed in the canopy and release it after the fire has passed. Seedling regeneration of shrubs is often dense following fire-stimulated release of seed from mature individuals. Removal of the canopy and litter by fire encourages the establishment pteridophytes (e.g. screw fern, Lindsaea linearis; swamp selaginella, Selaginella uliginosa; narrow comb fern, Schizaea fistulosa), geophytes (e.g. Drosera species, several orchid species) and other herbs (e.g. hairy mitrewort, Mitrasacme pilosa; tiny bladderwort, Utricularia lateriflora). Bracken (Pteridium esculentum) is common on drier sites, and may dominate species-poor sites which have a history of frequent low intensity burns.

King Island Scrub provides habitat for fauna including the echidna, the ringtail possum, wallabies and many different bird species such as dusky robin, grey shrike-thrush, Bassian thrush, and various honeyeater, whistlers and cuckoos.

Wet King Island Scrub provides habitat for Bennett’s wallaby, the smooth froglet, brown tree frog, tiger snake and a variety of birds like the New Holland honeyeater and grey shrike-thrush.

The scrub ‘subunit’ of the King Island sedge-heath-scrub complex is prone to frequent fires, both natural and man-made. Sedgelands and heathlands occur on flat undulating plains. Sedgelands are dominated by sedges, grasses, irisies and lilies. Sedgelands are robust habitats and develop first after fire or other disturbance, but they commonly develop into heathland after having been unburnt for 2 to 3 years. Heathlands are frequently dominated by low shrubs with small hard or prickly leaves e.g pink beard-heath, Leucopogon ericoides; prostrate guinea-flower, Hibbertia prostrata. Heathlands a require fire frequency of between 10 and 30 years to maintain their biodiversity.

These two plant communities provide habitat for fauna such as the swamp rat, the common froglet, the swamp antechinus, and Richard’s pipit.

The structure and species composition of King Island’s unique coastal vegetation is influenced by substrate type, fire history and exposure to the prevailing salt laden westerly winds. A number of distinct plant communities fringe the islands coastline, including tussock grassland, halophytic herbfield, coastal heath, and scrub characteristic of swales and backdunes.

Vegetation structure and composition of the rocky coastline is influenced by exposure of sites to surge and salt spray. The sparse halophytic herblands of the littoral fringe include sea celery, Apium prostratum; and bower spinach, Tetragonia implexiconia. These give way to windpruned heaths such as cushion bush, Leucophyta brownii; and sea box, Alyxia buxifolia, and grasses, such as coastal spear grass, Austrostipa stipoides; and Australian salt grass, Distichlis distichophylla, on more protected sites and as altitude and distance inland increase.

The many sand dunes that fringe the west and east coasts, and often extend inland as much as 6 kilometres, are referred to as the ‘dune system’. Vegetation is affected by onshore salt-laden winds, the shaping of dunes by waves and wind, soil development in hollows, grazing and fire. The sand dunes support heath, shrub and woodland on sites sheltered from high salinity and physiological drought by landform (e.g. swales) or distance from the coast, and not subjected to frequent cool burning or other disturbance.

Wetlands such as swamps, marshes, lagoons and the swampy margins of lakes are covered by still waters for at least four months of the year. Some wetlands with coastal landforms have been formed by the natural damming or deflection of drainage lines by shifting sands of the coastal rim of dunes. Many of these have been drained or modified by agriculture, so few remain in good condition. Small wetland systems occur inland of the dune systems. Some of these communities are of national and international significance, such as the Tufa herbfields at Boggy Creek and Bungaree Lagoon which is the only known Tasmanian locality for the aquatic wetland community dominated by small-fruit water-mat, Lepilaena bilocularis.

Wetlands are havens for birds like the swamp harrier and various waterfowl species and provide important habitat for the eastern banjo frog, the striped marsh frog and the green and gold frog, which is vulnerable to extinction. Lowland copperhead snakes may also be found in swampy areas.

Saltmarsh occurs locally on saline estuarine flats – at times inundated by the sea, but where little wave action occurs and therefore sediments can accumulate. The Sea Elephant and Yellow Rock estuaries are important aras of saltmarsh vegetation. The Sea Elephant River saltmarsh occupies flats up to 5 kilometres from the river mouth.

The saltmarsh of the Sea Elephant River estuary is of particular conservation significance because it is used by many migratory birds, some of which are rare or threatened like the orange-bellied parrot, which uses the saltmarsh vegetation e.g. shrubby glasswort, Sclerostegia arbuscula; and beaded glasswort, Sarcocornia quinqueflora, for feeding and the adjoining vegetation for roosting.


Herbarium on display at KIRDO

Over many years members of King Island Field Naturalists Inc. (KIFN) have collected samples of plants to add both to the local collection, located in the conference room at KIRDO, and the State collection, held at the Tasmanian Museum. Margaret Batey and Robyn Eades are very knowledgable about the flora of King Island and are always on the lookout for specimens to add to the collection.

The resource is available for anyone to view. If you want to add to your knowledge or need help in identifying a plant feel free to visit the display next to the KINRM offices.


The information on this page has been drawn from:

The Native Vegetation of King Island, Bass Strait – a comprehensive guide to the identification, conservation status and management of the island’s native vegetation and threatened plant species (2002), Richard W. Barnes, Fred Duncan & Chris S. Todd

King Island Flora: a field guide (2002) plus addendum – published by and available from KINRM or KIRDO, 5 George Street.


Last Updated on 15 October 2021