The Wet Tropics is home to a wide range of plant communities. While much of the World Heritage Area is rainforest, the Area also contains significant wet and dry sclerophyll forests, paperbark forests, wetlands, mangroves, heathlands, sedgelands, grasslands and rocky pavements. Rainforest varies enormously in structure and appearance, from the high montane cloud forests to wetland palm forests and drier coastal vine thickets (see the rainforest structure page).
Many of the distinctive Wet Tropics vegetation communities are related to the diversity of rainfall, terrain and soils. The mean annual rainfall ranges from about 1200mm to over 8000 mm (on Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker). The rainfall is distinctly seasonal with over 60% falling in the summer months of December to March. Compared with other tropical rainforests of the world, the wetter parts of the region lie at the extremely wet end of the hydrological spectrum.
Intense tropical cyclones are a feature of the region's climate and one of the factors shaping the structural and floristic differentiation of the vegetation - particularly the vegetation mosaics of the coastal lowlands.
The different rainfall patterns, soil types, drainage, altitude and a complex evolutionary history have combined to produce a wide variety of identifiable rainforest communities.
Some of the major types of vegetation are described briefly in this section.