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An identification system for plants of the NT arid zone:

A pictorial key to groups of trees, shrubs, vines and forbs of the MacDonnell Ranges Region

Dichotomous key to groups of MacDonnell Ranges plants Link


Dicot leaves 

Main Dicot Key Lucid

Flowering plants of dryland situations; perianth parts never fused together into a cap that falls at anthesis; perianth parts either readily recognisable, much reduced and parts not easily counted or rarely completely absent; leaf blades (when present) with a single midvein (with or without lateral veins), netted venation or palmate venation, OR if veins not discernible with a hand lens then leaves not sheathing; if leaf blades completely absent then bladeless sheaths also absent; sporocarps, scale leaves and cones absent; growth form not palm-like or grass-like.

Euc bud fl 

Eucalypts and Corymbias Lucid

Perianth parts (i.e. sepals and/or petals) that are 1) fused together into a cap (sometimes also a smaller second cap present) that 2) eventually falls from the mature flower bud 3) exposing numerous stamens; trees or mallees rarely less than 2 m high with woody capsular fruit and leaves that typically give off an eucalyptus odour when crushed.


Casuarinaceae (2 species)

Scale leaves in whorls of 4-17; scale leaves soon turning straw-coloured or brown and contrasting with the greener branchlet internodes; branchlets lacking a resinous (coniferous) odour when crushed; female fruiting cones barrel-shaped with numerous projections in longitudinal lines; trees of sand plains, dunefields and disturbed watercourses near Alice Springs.

Figs (Ficus brachypoda)

The terminal expanded leaf on each branchlet with a sheath-like stipule that completely encloses the growing shoot prior to falling; stipules leaving an obvious scar that encircles the stem when they fall; sap milky; flowers and fruits numerous but highly modified and never exposed, being borne on the inner surface of a fleshy globular receptacle or false fruit.


Perianth monocots 

Perianth Monocots Lucid

Perianth conspicuous, six parts readily counted sometimes with the aid of a hand lens) though rarely (Commelina) one very conspicuous and five less obvious, all petaloid (white, yellow, blue, pink or purple), all sepaloid (green and transluscent turning straw-coloured), or differentiated into sepals and petals, the longest >2 mm long or if rarely less then leaf auricles absent and anthers with filaments; leaf blades (when present) with 3-many parallel longitudinal veins OR if veins not discernible with a hand lens then the lower part of the leaf partially or fully sheathing (encircling) younger inner leaves and/or the flowering stem; if leaf blades completely absent then base of the flowering stems encircled by bladeless sheaths.

couplet3a Xanth  

Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea thorntonii) Factsheet

Leaves linear, less than 5 mm wide, undivided and with entire margins, broadening at very base and partially sheathing (encircling) the stem, borne directly on each main stem/trunk, the live ones crowded at the apex of each stem/trunk.

Palms leed 200px v2 (by sp) 

Palms (2 species)

Leaves fan-shaped with incised margins, borne directly on each main stem/trunk, the live ones crowded at the apex of each stem/trunk (Livistona mariae) Factsheet , or if pinnate then most leaflets distinctly folded along their length (Phoenix dactylifera) Factsheet and sometimes splitting along the midvein towards the base; flowers (and fruits) sometimes clustered but never aggregated into cones.

 Typha doming

Typha domingensis Factsheet

Inflorescence a distinctive dense cinnamon-brown elongated spike, divided into two parts with a small gap between them, the upper male portion and lower female portion; robust perennial (to > 2 m) of wetlands.


Eriocaulon (2 species)

Flowers and fruits densely packed into a solitary ovoid or hemispherical white to dark grey head 3-6 mm wide terminating each peduncle; heads surrounded by several sterile bracts shorter than the heads; peduncles with an obliquely mouthed bladeless tubular sheath at the base; small annuals (less than 15 cm high) with transverse septa in the leaves and capsular, 3-lobed fruit containing 3 seeds.


Triglochin (4 species)

Perianth present though small (<2 mm long) and quickly deciduous; anthers sessile and each falling with a perianth segment; tiny leaf auricles present though ligule absent; fruit finally separating into segments corresponding to the three fertile carpels, the carpels with basal spurs or appearing 6-pointed when viewed dorsally; small annual wetland plants.


Centrolepis (2 species)

Terminal cluster of flowers fully or partially enclosed by a pair of prominent erect sheathing bracts; leaf sheaths with free margins; tiny fruits splitting to release a single seed; small annuals to 6 cm high.

Aquatic Plants

aquatic - true  

Submerged or Floating AquaticsLucid

Aquatic plants confined to semi-permanent or permanent water bodies with comparatively stable water level; all leaves fully submerged below water surface or some leaves floating on water surface, rarely a few extending just above water surface.


Typical ferns Phoenix 

Typical Ferns Lucid

Young leaves coiled from tip downwards and unfurling as they expand; sori (clusters of spore-bearing sporangia) present on the underside of mature leaves (check several leaves including the most mature)


Isoetes muelleri Factsheet

Plants never producing flowers but with spore-bearing sporangia embedded in swollen leaf bases.


Marsilea Lucid

Leaves with a long stalk terminated by four leaflets (resembling a 4-leaf clover); wetland plants never producing flowers but with spore-bearing sporangia enclosed in purse-like structures (sporocarps) at the base of the plant (3 species).


Psilotum nudum Factsheet

Plants never producing flowers but with spore-bearing sporangia fused into a stalkless 3-lobed fruit-like structure in the axils of 2-lobed scale leaves; sterile leaves (i.e. those not bearing sporangia in the axils) scale-like and unlobed; uncommon plant restricted to moist shaded rock crevices.

Ophioglosum (spiketext) 

Ophioglossum Lucid

Plants never producing flowers but with spore-bearing sporangia borne in stalked narrow terminal spikes, the whole structure resembling a small spear; leaves generally few, lanceolate, ovate or elliptic with netted venation.

 Gymnosperms and Conifers


Cycads (Macrozamia macdonnellii) Factsheet

Leaves pinnate, borne directly on each main stem/trunk, the live ones crowded at the apex of each stem/trunk; leaflets flat or slightly concave at base, never splitting; reproductive structure a cone.

Phnix 7a (Call glau ml(180)

Cyprus Pine (Callitris glaucophylla) Factsheet

Scale leaves in whorls of three; scale leaves and their decurrent bases (that completely cover the internodes) the same colour; branchlets with a resinous (coniferous) odour when crushed; female fruiting cones globular with six woody scales; tree of rocky hills and ranges.