The aim of this study was to develop an effective and non-destructive method for the selection of native Mediterranean plants with phytoremediation potential based on their spontaneous recovery capacities. The study site consisted in a mixed contaminated soils (As, Cu, Pb, Sb, Zn) in the vicinity of a former lead smelting factory abandoned since 1925 in the Calanques National Park (Marseille, southeastern France). We developed an integrated characterization approach that takes into account topsoil metal(loid)s (MM) contamination, plant community composition and structure and mesologic parameters without using destructive methods. From a statistical selection of significant environmental descriptors, plant communities were described and interpreted as the result of spontaneous recovery under multiple stresses and local conditions (both natural and anthropogenic). We collected phytoecological and MM topsoil data using field monitoring and geographic information system (GIS) on a pollution hotspot where natural plant communities occur. The results of the multivariate analysis performed between species and descriptors indicated that a century of MM pollution pressure produced a significant correlation with plant community dynamics in terms of composition, diversity and structure, leading to the co-occurrence of different plant succession stages. Thus, these successions seemed linked to the variability of anthropogenic disturbance regimes within the study site. We recorded high topsoil contamination heterogeneity at the scale both of the plot and of the whole study area that suggested a heterogeneous MM distribution pattern dependent on the source of contaminants and site environmental variability. We identified 4 spontaneous plant communities co-occurring through a MM contamination gradient that could be used later from degraded to reference communities to define ecological restoration target combined to phytoremediation applications with respect to local conditions. Our results suggested that some of the native plant species such as Coronilla juncea and Globularia alypum might be tolerant to high mixed MM soil concentrations and they could thus be used for phytostabilization purposes in polluted Mediterranean areas in regard to their life-traits. Our non-destructive methodology led both to the selection of tolerant native plant species and communities and identification of highly polluted priority intervention areas through the study site where phytostabilization should be implemented. Furthermore, by analyzing succession dynamics linked to contamination patterns throughout the area and spontaneous recovery of native tolerant vegetation, our methodology opens up broad perspectives and research fields for ecological restoration for Mediterranean protected and contaminated areas based on ecosystem trajectories and new approaches for the integrative management of polluted soils. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.