Vegetation communities

On the Gold Coast, most of our land-based ecosystems and habitats are vegetation communities. Native vegetation grows in groups of species. These groups vary depending on soil, landform, aspect, elevation, and climate.

Habitats include:

  • Exposed coastal – dune and rocky headlands
  • Protected coastal – heath and coastal woodlands
  • Rainforest – littoral, dry, subtropical, warm temperate and cool temperate
  • Riverine – riparian and floodplains
  • Eucalypt woodland and forests
  • Wet eucalypt forests
  • Montane.

Vegetation communities are a critical natural asset. They provide benefits and services to us just like assets or infrastructure that we build.

All vegetation communities:

  • contribute to climate change mitigation and adaption – absorb greenhouse gasses, store carbon dioxide as carbon, cool local climate and attract rain
  • improve air quality – filter airborne pollution, including particulates
  • reduce flooding and improve water quality – reduce erosion and increase infiltration of rainwater
  • support recreation and tourism.

Exposed coastal

Sand dunes are the dominant landform along our coastline. These long stretches of sand are interspersed with rocky headlands.

Prior to European settlement, more than 850 hectares (approximately 1%) of the Gold Coast's land was exposed coastal. In the past, much of it was impacted by sand mining and coastal development. It is estimated that more than 90% of exposed coastal areas have remained intact or have been restored.

There are 2 main types of exposed coastal communities:

Sand dunes

foredune complex currumbin
Source: Lui Weber

Occur on mobile beach sands. Dune vegetation is dominated by groundcovers such as beach spinifex and scrambling vines. Small trees like coastal she-oak, coastal banksia and pandanus are also common. More complex examples of this type of habitat can be seen on the northern end of South Stradbroke Island and in a small area of southern Palm Beach.

Rocky headlands

This unique vegetation community occurs on exposed areas of rocky headlands. They can be found at Burleigh Headland – also called Jellurgal by the local Indigenous Kombumerri clan. Grasses such as kangaroo grass are the dominant feature, interspersed with coastal ground layer species. Isolated small trees such as pandanus also occur.


  • Natural asset – stable dunes are critical to the health of our beautiful beaches. They also form a crucial defence against coastal erosion, protecting people, properties, and infrastructure.
  • Recreation and tourism – beaches are a large part of the Gold Coast way of life. They are instrumental in shaping our city's culture and economy.
  • Habitat – exposure to strong salt laden winds and wave erosion results in a unique range of plant and animal species.
  • Rare, threatened, and notable plants and animals include:
    - grasses – spinifex grass, coastal dune grass, kangaroo grass
    - scramblers – pigface, fan flower, coastal jack bean, yellow beach bean
    - trees – coastal she-oak, coastal banksia and pandanus
    - animals – sea turtles, beach stone-curlew, pied oystercatcher, red-capped plovers nest in fore dune areas.

Protected coastal

In more protected coastal areas, unique vegetation communities occur. These communities are found in sandy, coastal areas with low-nutrient soils. They are inland from the beach dunes, headlands, and tidal wetlands.

Prior to European settlement, approximately 3,500 hectares (approximately 3%) of Gold Coast land was made up of protected coastal vegetation communities. Much of it was cleared and modified for coastal and urban development. It is estimated that less than 32% of the protected coastal vegetation communities present prior to European settlement, now remains.

Vegetation communities include:

Wallum heathlands

Vegetation smaller than 2 metres and dominated by wildflower shrubs. These heathlands are very diverse and support a distinct variety of plants including tea trees, grasstrees and wildflowers. They can be found at Pine Ridge Conservation Park.

Coastal woodlands

These woodlands grow on old sand dunes in inland coastal areas. They are also on South Stradbroke Island. Eucalypts and other gum trees are often dominant. Other coastal plants such as coastal cypress pine, banksias, tea-trees and heaths are also present.


  • Habitat – these are unique and sometimes harsh environments especially wallum heathlands.
  • Rare, threatened, and notable species include:
    - trees – coastal cypress pine, tumbledown gum, scribbly gum
    - shrubs – wallum banksia the floral and arboreal emblem of our city, wallum heath, blunt-leaved wattle, woolly star hair, dwarf banksia, heathy parrot pea, White's tea tree, strangea, green five fingers
    - ground covers – snake vine, slender sedge, wallum dampiera
    - birds – honeyeaters including white-cheeked honeyeater and eastern spinebill, white-browed scrub wren, varied triller, eastern yellow robin, and leaden flycatcher.


A variety of forest and woodland vegetation communities grow in fertile alluvial soils. These occur along watercourses and their floodplains. Apart from gallery rainforest, they are often dominated by eucalypts. When there is no fire for long periods, these communities may include rainforest species.

Before European settlement, less than 9,300 hectares (approximately 7%) of Gold Coast land was made up of riverine vegetation communities. With fertile soils, much of our riverine ecosystems have been cleared for farming or residential purposes. It is estimated that only 18% of riverine vegetation communities now remain.

Vegetation communities include:

Riparian vegetation


Occurs on banks of creeks, rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies. It is often different to the surrounding vegetation groups due to the additional moisture and nutrients available in the soils. Variety of vegetation types including gallery rainforest, flooded gum and black tee tree woodlands.


Occurs on floodplains. Predominantly eucalypt woodlands and forests, but also natural treeless sedgelands.


  • Plays a critical role in flood mitigation and water quality.
  • Riparian vegetation is particularly important for our waterways. It creates shade, controls erosion and is an essential food source for many aquatic species.
  • Habitat – has a greater diversity of plants and animals compared to adjacent upland areas. This is due to the higher moisture and nutrient content of the soils that adjoin water bodies. Provide critical habitat and movement corridors for many species.
  • Rare, threatened, and notable species include:
    - trees – long-leaved tuckeroo, white lace flower, crown of gold, northern rose walnut, black tee tree, marblewood, swamp box, creek sandpaper fig, scrub cherry
    - shrubs – mangrove lollybush, native ginger, stinging nettle, creek mat rush, common reed, slender sedge, palm lily
    - animals – water dragons, giant barred-frog. cascade treefrog, azure kingfisher and platypus.


E carnea E tindaliae gold coast springbrook rd
Source: Lui Weber

Eucalypt open forests and woodlands are the most common type of habitat on the Gold Coast. This vegetation community is the classic Australian bush. It includes gum trees and wattles, grasstrees, wildflowers, koalas and other marsupials, parrots and forest birds. Eucalypt forests occupy our lowlands, our foothills and much of the higher country on a range of soil types. There are more than 20 different types of eucalypt forests and woodlands in our city.

Before European settlement, more than 60,000 hectares (approximately 47%) of Gold Coast land was made up of eucalypt vegetation communities. Some of these areas have been cleared and modified for agriculture and urban development. It is estimated that less than 46% of the eucalypt vegetation communities present prior to European settlement, now remains.


  • Habitat – home to many Australian icons such as kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and possums. Many species of trees which form hollows, grow in eucalypt forests and woodlands.
  • To learn more, download Native animals of Gold Coast eucalypt forests and woodlands(PDF, 149KB)
  • Rare, threatened, and notable plants and animals include:
    - trees – plunkett mallee, bush-house paper bark, satinwood
    - shrubs – myrtle wattle
    - koalas, greater gliders and ringtail possums – only 3 mammals can survive on a diet of eucalypt leaves and they are all found in our local forests.
    - Eucalypts – are the most common type of tree on the Gold Coast that form hollows. Natural hollows can take more than 100 years to form. These hollows are essential for more than 100 local species of birds and mammals which depend on them for nesting and shelter.

Wet eucalypt

flooded gum alluvium austinville
Source: Lui Weber

Like other types of eucalypt forests, the canopy of wet eucalypt forests is dominated by eucalypts and related trees. As the conditions are more moist, rainforest trees and shrubs are often found in the understorey. Wet eucalypt forests can be found adjacent to both eucalypt forest and rainforest.

Before European settlement, more than 11,000 hectares (9%) of Gold Coast land was wet eucalypt vegetation communities. It is estimated that 79% of the wet eucalypt vegetation communities present prior to European settlement, now remains.


  • Habitat - these communities add to habitat diversity, providing food and other resources for a wide variety of fauna species.
  • Rare, threatened, and notable plants and animals include:
    - trees – cabbage palm, white bolly gum
    - shrubs – hop bush, shining burrawang, smooth scrub turpentine, tall rice flower, spear lily, palm lily
    - ferns – bracken, common ground fern,
    - ground covers – blue berry lily, white paper daisy, native ginger, blue grass
    - mammals – greater glider
    - birds – powerful owl.


Most rainforest communities are found in areas with moist, rich, volcanic or alluvial soils. They have dense canopies with overlapping branches and foliage. Only small amounts of light reach the forest floor. There is a range of plant life forms, including mosses, ferns, vines, palms, strangler figs and epiphytes. They can be found in sheltered gullies, along watercourses and where there are the right conditions in the hinterland.

Before European settlement, approximately 13,000 hectares (approximately 10%) of Gold Coast land area was rainforest. From the 1850s, rainforest tree species including red cedar, white beech and hoop pine were harvested. Some areas were also cleared for farming. Most of our rainforests grows in hard to access areas of the hinterland. This has protected much of these rainforests. It is estimated that 71% have been retained since European settlement. On the lowlands, rainforest hasn't fared so well. Littoral rainforest has been especially impacted with less than 6% now remaining since European settlement.

Rainforest communities that occur on the Gold Coast include:


littoral rainforest basalt burleigh
Source: Lui Weber

Coastal rainforests that once existed close to beaches, such as the Surfers Paradise rainforest that once grew between Main Beach and Broadbeach. The coastal rainforest that grows on the basalt rock at Burleigh Heads is another type of littoral rainforest and is the only example of this type in our city. It has a relatively low species diversity compared to other types of rainforest. Only a few patches of the remain however a new littoral rainforest is being created on The Spit, through an irrigated revegetation project.


Typical of rainforests, the vegetation is lush. It has high species diversity and many plant forms including tall trees, strangler figs, palms, epiphytes and ferns. Subtropical rainforest is one of the most common types of rainforest on the Gold Coast. It occurs from the coast to the ranges and is widespread throughout the hinterland. It is often found in patches and strips in sheltered gullies. It can also be found in protected south facing slopes.


Occurs where the soils are good but the rainfall is relatively low. It is much less lush than subtropical rainforest. It has a lower canopy, though there may be scattered tall emergent trees like hoop pine and Crow's Ash. It also has fewer vines and epiphytes. Dry rainforest only survives in very small patches. There are patches of dry rainforest in our city's northern suburbs. They support important species including the critically endangered Brachychiton sp. Ormeau.

Warm temperate

Occurs on relatively infertile soils in cool, moist, mountainous areas. It has less diversity than subtropical rainforest. It is often dominated by coachwood and sassafrass tree species. Lichens often cover the tree trunks.

Cool temperate

Cool temperate rainforest volcanics springbrook
Source: Lui Weber

Restricted to tiny patches on cool, wet and misty mountain tops on the Springbrook and Lamington plateaus. These communities are often shrouded in frequent mists when it's not raining. Antarctic beech (Nothofagus moorei) is the dominant species. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 2000 years old and are registered with the National Trust of Australia.


  • World Heritage status has been awarded to the rainforests of Springbrook and Lamington.
  • Habitat – all rainforest is of great importance for the diversity of plants, animals and other life forms it supports.
  • Rare, threatened, and notable plants and animals include:
    - trees – brown pearwood, white lace flower, axebreaker, brown tuckeroo, northern rose walnut, white yiel-yiel, canary beach
    - shrubs – finger lime, palm lily, tall rice flower, smooth scrub turpentine
    - birds – sooty owl, marbled frogmouth, Albert's lyrebird, fig bird, Australian king parrot
    - mammals - Black-tailed Antechinus, short eared brushtail possum, bush rat, eastern blossom bat, red-necked and red-legged pademelon
    - frogs – Fleay's Barred Frog, Loveridge's Frog
    - reptiles – land mullet, southern angle-headed dragon.

To learn more, visit our Threatened species page.


montane heath springbrook
Source: Lui Weber

Montane habitats occur in the mountains. These vegetation communities are naturally restricted. They occur only on thin, rocky soils in areas of exposed rock and dry plateaus, and high slopes adjoining cliffs and mountain tops. Small patches can occur within other habitat types.

These habitats are naturally restricted. Before European settlement, approximately 225 hectares (less than 1%) of Gold Coast land was montane habitat. As it occurs in such difficult and isolated terrain, very little has been impacted. It is estimated that 99% of montane habitat in our city has been retained.

Montane heath

Occurs on expanses of rock or as small isolated outcrops of vegetation on rock shelves and in crevices of cliff faces. It is dominated by a mix of tea-trees and other prickly leaved shrubs. Rock orchids, ferns and herbaceous plants may also be present. Due to low soil fertility and high exposure to wind and sun, montane vegetation communities occasionally share similar species to coastal heath communities.

Cliff faces

Areas of exposed cliff and rock faces with very little vegetation, except for isolated rock-dwelling (litophytic) plants.

Larger patches are located at Canyon Lookout at Springbrook, Dave's Creek in Lamington National Park, and Pages Pinnacle at Numinbah. Additional small areas are located at Mt. Tallebudgera and Bally Mountain in Tallebudgera.


  • Habitat – unique habitat that support a rich diversity of native wildflowers
  • Rare, threatened, and notable plants and animals include:
    - trees – bell-fruited mallee ash
    - shrubs – snow bush, large leaved tea tree, cliff bottlebrush, giant spear lily, spiked mint bush, blunt leaved wattle
    - ground cover – pink rock orchid, rock lily, fragrant sun orchid, coral fern
    - Hesperilla crypsargyra binna – an uncommon sub-species of the Silver Sedge-skipper butterfly