Thursday, October 13, 2011

Common Liverwort

Although my students never seemed to share my enthusiasm for liverworts, the reproductive biology of these primitive plants is both strange and fascinating. To avoid the same fate as my glassy-eyed students, if you are interested in learning about liverwort sex, you might study the haploid and diploid generations of this plant on the Internet or in a library book.

Suffice to say here that the Common (or Umbrella) Liverwort is found around the world. It has separate male and female plants. This liverwort reproduces both sexually and asexually. The little gemmae cups visible in my photograph are an example a asexual reproduction. The little balls of cells inside the cups are genetically identical to the parent plant. Rain splashes these balls out of the cups, thereby dispersing the liverwort. 

Since liverworts usually prefer moist habitat, we were surprised to this plant on Erika's garden soil.  We usually find them on rocks along riverbanks. Wikipedia, however, assures us that Common Liverworts are often found in gardens and greenhouses and can be a horticultural weed.

The word "liverwort" comes of the Anglo-Saxon for liver and plant.  At the time, folks believed that God made each plant for human use.  As the liverwort thallus (leaf) is more or less liver-shaped, you could use liverworts to cure liver diseases.  Such a philosophy can easily lead you to cases of plant poisoning, but throughout the history of medicine, and to this day, patients only die from the last disease they contract. 


  1. Just found some Liverworts and moss in our small shade garden.
    I am really exited about my find.
    Thank you for your great information.

  2. That was really interesting! I've never heard of Liverwort before. Definitely helped me with my biology assignment!