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A simplified look at Australia's vegetation

There have been various attempts to devise a classification to accommodate the distinctive vegetation of Australia. The system most widely recognised at present was drawn up by Specht (1970) and defines structural forms of vegetation in terms of the dominant plant form and the percentage of foliage cover of the tallest plant layer. The use of foliage cover rather than canopy cover takes special account of the open nature of eucalypt crowns.

In this classification, a tree is defined as a woody plant more than 5 m tall, usually with a single stem. A shrub is a woody plant less than 8 m tall, frequently with many stems arising at or near the base.

The map below gives a simplified representation of the major vegetation types in Australia.

Simplified vegetation map of Australia

Structural forms of vegetation in Australia (based on Specht 1970)

Percentage foliage cover of tallest plant layer

Life form and height of tallest stratum Dense
Very sparse
Trees > 30 m Tall closed-forest Tall open-forest Tall woodland Tall open-woodland
Trees 10-30 m Closed-forest Open -forest Woodland Open-woodland
Trees 5-10 m Low closed-forest Low open-forest Low woodland Low open-woodland
Shrubs 2-8 m Closed -scrub Open-scrub Tall shrubland Tall open-shrubland
Shrubs 0-2 m Closed -heath Open-heath Low shrubland Low open-shrubland


Carnahan, J.A. in Jeans, D.N. (ed.) (1977), Inside back cover, "Australia: a geography". Sydney University Press, Sydney.
Specht, R.L. (1970) Vegetation. Pages 44–67 in Leeper, G.W. (ed.), "Australian Environment", 4th edn. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.


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