Hepatophytes (Liverworts) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve

Hepatophyte Characteristics: Liverworts are delicate plants that grow in moist environments. They are distributed worldwide, but are most common in the tropics. There are approximately 8,000 species of liverworts. The group dates back 473 to 471 million years.

Liverworts have both sexual (gametophyte) and asexual (sporophyte) generations. A liverwort gametophyte (the stage we usually see) consists of a thallus (flattened cells) and single-celled rhizoids that anchor the thallus in place. There are two forms: 1) thallose liverworts are branching, 2) leafy liverworts are ribbon-like. Gametophytes are small plants, usually 2 to 20 mm wide, with individual plants less than 10 cm long. The common name "liverwort" is appropriate because they are liver-shaped and small. "Wort" means "small plant." The name of the phylum, Hepatophyta, is derived from the Greek word "hepatikos" which means "liver."

Interactions in the Smith Preserve: Some liverworts are the first to colonize open ground, forming biological soil crust with other micro and macro organisms. They play a major role in maintaining an ecosystem's humidity level because of their ability to absorb and store water. Because of this ability, they help facilitate the decay of logs and the disintegration of rocks. And, like other plants, hepatophytes convert energy of sunlight to energy other organisms can use. The conversion process is photosynthesis. Energy that they create is distributed to animals through the food web. Also during photosynthesis, liverworts produce oxygen. In addition, they provide habitat for other organisms.

Species Name
Common Name



Unknown Family

Unknown Species and Unknown Common Name

Much of the sand in the scrub is covered by a thin crustal community of highly specialized micro and macro organisms. In some of the scrub, the crust is dark greenish-black. This is probably a complex mosaic of liverworts, bacteria, microfungi, cyanobacteria, green algae, and lichens. The photographs below show a small clump of one of these communities. The gray-green hieroglyphic-shaped organisms may be leafy liverworts. These organisms have been enlarged in the second photograph. To learn more about biological soil crusts in the Smith Preserve, click here.

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Family Lejeunaceae


This liverwort resembles moss and is growing on the trunk of a Roystonea regia (Royal Palm) on the southeastern berm of the filter marsh. The liverwort is adjacent to numerous lichens. Unlike moss, the "leaves" of this liverwort are smaller and do not have a midrib. Because of its structural form, it has been identified as a member of Class Jungremanniidea.

On January 8, 2013, Dr. Robert Lücking identified this specimen from these photographs as probably a member of Family Lejeuneaceae. Family Lejeuneaceae is the largest family of liverworts and most members are epiphytes. This family has the upper edge of each leaf overlapping the next higher leaf along the stem. Because of this, the lower edge of each leaf is covered.

These photographs are of the gametophyte stage of the plant. The stalk of the sporophyte is translucent to white with a capsule that is black in color and shaped like an egg. When the capsule matures, it splits into quarters and releases spores into the air. Liverwort sporophytes are seldom seen.


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© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer), unless otherwise credited above.

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