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natural history: liverworts

Blue Tier liverworts

Random image of Blue Tier liverworts

liverwort sporophyte

According to the Checklist of Australian Liverworts and Hornworts Tasmania had 416 out of the 871 species recorded for the country at April 2006. We are not aware that anyone has made a study of how many of these grow on the Blue Tier so it will be an interesting exercise to start a record for liverworts.

The most familiar liverworts are the thallose forms of which Marchantia species would be typical. However the most common form to be found on the Blue Tier would be the leafy forms which, from a distance, closely resemble some mosses. Usually a hand lens is required to pick out the distinguishing features - the smaller species require closer examination under a dissecting microscope. If the stem has 2 rows of leaves on the surface and possibly another set on the underside, and the leaves lack a midvein, it is likely to be a leafy liverwort. However there are exceptions which make it difficult for a novice to identify the specimen with any certitude. This is nothing to be ashamed of since even taxonomists have been known (quite reasonably) to misidentify mosses for liverworts (Takakia lepidozioides).

Some of the leafy liverworts we have encountered are so tiny that we could not have set out to discover them deliberately - they have been found enmeshed with other more robust specimens we had examined. The scales provided on the images and inserts are believed to be reasonably accurate but these are not of much use in identification as the same batch of plants may yield specimens that vary in size by an order of magnitude.

The presence or absence of a third set of leaves (underleaves), as well as their shape and arrangement along the stem, substrate and growth habit are essential for keying out the species. The inserts accompanying the main images provide details of these (underleaves carry the notation 'U'). Some of these inserts are less than stellar but provide what we consider the distinguishing features - we expect to replace them with clearer images in time to come.

liverwort spores

While a mature Eucalyptus regnans is an awesome sight we suggest that the almost invisible macro-flora is no less a fascinating subject. We recommend Meagher & Fuhrer's book mentioned below for an introduction to mosses and liverworts, and suggest use of the University of Tasmania key linked below to acquire some familiarity with the subject.

On the left we have an image of a Chiloscyphus latifolius sporophyte - unlike the persistent moss sporophytes these usually have a short life span of a few hours within which to open and disperse the spores, as depicted for Fossombronia on right [click on thumbnail for larger image]. The helical objects in the images are spring-like 'elaters' which are believed to play a part in dispersal of spores.

In an ideal world every organism could be identified, or at least be identifiable; in the inperfect world we inhabit some of the more obscure forms do not easily fit into one category or another. The root of the problem 'goes back a century or more when numerous species were defined with great abandon, often based on limited examination of specimens and with rather poor published descriptions'.

Latest additions: Haplomitrium sp. | Metalejeunea cucullata | Lejeunea 191115A | Gottschea tuloides | Lepidolaena T485

Liverwort thumbnails (135KB)

Thallose liverworts

Leafy liverworts


'*' denotes specimen was collect outside the Blue Tier
'?' denotes some uncertainity in keying out specimens
† The family has undergone revision in recent years. Details in Engel, JJ Austral Hepaticae 45. A monograph of the Genus Chiloscyphus Corda (Lophocoleaceae) for Australasia Fieldiana Botany, Number 48:1-206. 2010. Some of the names used here may have to be revised.
¹Reported to differ from the NZ species

- Scott, G.A.M., Southern Australian Liverworts, Australian Flora and Fauna Series #2, 1986 (ISBN 064403632X) is the classic work on Australian liverworts but is now out of print
- Meagher, D, & Fuhrer, B., A Field Guide to the Mosses and Allied Plants of Southern Australia, (ISBN 0 642 56828 6), Flora of Australia Supplementary Series, Number 20 - Australian Biological Resources Study/The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, 2003
- Meagher, D. 'Studies on Victorian bryophytes 5. Key to leafy liverworts' and 'Studies on Victorian Bryophytes 6. Key to thallose liverworts and hornworts', both appearing in Victorian Naturalist Vol. 123(4) August 2006 pp 236-254 would find wide application in Tasmania
- Glenny, D. & Malcolm, B., Key to Australasian Liverwort and Hornwort Genera (ISBN 0 642 56840 5), Australian Biological Resources Study on CDRom is an interactive key to 181 genera of liverworts and hornworts.
- Malcolm, W. & Malcolm, N. Mosses and Other Bryophytes, An Illustrated Glossary, 2nd Edition, Micro-Optics Press, 2006, (ISBN 0958222479) describes and illustrates the terminology used in bryology; we have found this indispensable keying out specimens. An alternative is provided by Leica Chavoutier online (see below)
- In the absence of up-todate comprehensive treatment on Australian liverworts we recommend the first of a series on NZ liverworts: Engel, J.J. & Glenny, D., A Flora of the Liverworts and Hornworts of New Zealand: Volume 1, ISBN 1930723679; Landcare Research has made the contents of the entire volume online
- NEW Vol 2 & 3 of A Flora of the Liverworts and Hornworts of New Zealand have been published recently. They treat the following families:

- Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory Vol 1-20 are now available for download (early issues are in Japanese).
- Chavoutier, L., Bryophytes, Illustrated Glossary is available online (pdf file 18.9 MB)
- University of British Columbia provides an introduction to liverworts
- University of Tasmania provides a key to Tasmanian liverworts
- McCarthy, P.M., Checklist of Australian liverworts and hornworts, 2006
- Australian National Botanic Gardens maintains a section on bryophytes
- Glime, Janice M., 2007 Bryophyte Ecology, 5 volumes are available online in the form of .pdf files.
- Victoria University of Wellington provides a key to the hepatic flora of New Zealand with a useful glossary at the end
- Kaimai Bush has a good selection of natural history images
- Discover Life has a huge collection of liverwort images, mainly of Frullania

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