water liverwort

(Marchantia aquatica)

Conservation Status
water liverwort
Photo by Kelsey
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked


not listed


Water liverwort is one of the largest liverworts. It is found across North America and in Europe. It is found in permanently moist and intermittently wet areas in partial sun to medium shade. It grows on moist or wet soil in swamps, calcareous fens, wet meadows, cliffs, springs, disturbed areas, and recently burned areas. It often forms colonies of overlapping plants, sometimes creating extensive mats. The colonies are sometimes composed of all male or all female plants. It can be a pest if allowed to invade a greenhouse.

The vegetative body is a flat, lobed, ¾ to 4 long, ¼ to 4 wide plant body (thallus). The cells of a thallus are not differentiated into organs. It has no stem, leaves, vascular system, or true roots. The lobes are 1½ to 2 long, ¼ to ½ wide, up to 1 16 (1.5 mm) thick at the base, and thinner near the tip. The bases of adjacent lobes often merge together. The margins are wavy, untoothed, and green, not reddish or purplish. It has a dark, midrib-like furrow that is uninterrupted and conspicuous. It is not a true midrib because the thallus has no vasular tissue. The upper surface is bright green, opaque, and hairless. There are no scales on the upper surface. It is densely patterned with faintly indented, diamond-shaped areas (areolae). Each areola has a single, tiny, white-rimmed pore in the center. The areolae are very small and barely visible to the naked eye. The pores require a 10x hand lens to see. The underside of the thallus is very different. It is covered with colorless scales and has numerous large bundles of root-like filaments (rhizoids). Long wiry rhizoids attach the plant to the soil. Short, peg-like rhizoids absorb water. The plants is not aromatic, even when crushed.

Liverworts reproduce both sexually and asexually. The asexual reproductive structure of water liverwort is a splash cup (gemma cup) that is produced on the upper surface of the thallus. Gemma cups are almost always present and are produced on both male and female plants. The cups are green, circular, and shallow. Each cup has a few egg-shaped, 1 32 (1 mm) long gemma. The gemmae are dispersed when they are splashed out by raindrops. Each gemma can produce one or two plants if it lands on soil.

The male sexual reproductive structure (antheridiophore) is a short stalk topped with a flat disk that contains the male reproductive organ (antheridia). The stalk is to 13 16 long, purplish, and hairless. The disk resembles a flattened umbrella. It is flat and has 6 or 8 rounded lobes. Each lobe has a warty, purplish or grayish band of spores that radiates out from the center. The margins of the disk are translucent.

The female reproductive structure (archegoniophore) is umbrella-shaped. It consists of 8 to 11 narrow, green lobes radiating from the top of naked, purplish, 1½ to 2 long stalk. The lobes droop downwards, and the margins of the lobes are turned downwards. The underside of the lobe is lined with ovaries.




Prostrate: ¾ to 4 long


Similar Species


Marchantia is the only genus of complex thalloid liverworts that creates cup-like gemmae.

Snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) areolae are much larger and conspicuous, clearly visible without magnification. They give the thallus a snakeskin-like appearance. It does not produce gemma cups. The raised area around each pore is clearly visible without magnification, though to see the pore itself requires a 20x hand lens. When crushed, it is strongly aromatic. The archegoniophore is rarely produced and is cone-shaped, not umbrella-shaped.

Common liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) is much more common. The dark, midrib-like furrow is incomplete and looks spotty.


Moist or intermittently wet. Swamps, calcareous fens, wet meadows, cliffs, springs, disturbed areas, recently burned areas, and greenhouses. Partial sun to medium shade.






Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



24, 29.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Marchantiophyta (liverworts)  
  Class Marchantiopsida (complex thalloid liverworts)  
  Subclass Marchantiidae  


Marchantiales (complex thallose liverworts)  





It is likely that the species Marchantia polymorpha evolved from a hybrid between Marchantia alpestris and Marchantia aquatica. M. aquatica has a prominent and uninterrupted black longitudinal line in the middle of each thallus. M. alpestris lacks this line. M. polymorpha, the most common, is intermediate between the other two.

Some authorities consider M. alpestris and M. aquatica to be varieties of M. polymorpha, but this is not widely accepted. World Flora Online recognizes M. aquatica. ITIS considers M. aquatica to be a synonym of M. polymorpha. GBIF considers M. aquatica to be a synonym of M. polymorpha ssp. polymorpha.


Subordinate Taxa






Marchantia polymorpha var. aquatica


Common Names


water liverwort












In mosses and liverworts: A vegetative, reproductive cell or mass of cells that detaches from the parent and can develop into a new individual. Plural: gemmae.



A filament arising from the lower stem of a moss, liverwort, or alga that anchors it to a substrate.



In lichens: The vegetative body of a lichen composed of both the alga and the fungus. In liverworts: a flat, relatively undifferentiated plant body. Plural: thalli.

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I have females now too

    water liverwort      

this grows in my moss garden

    water liverwort      
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Location: Mound, MN

I have females now too

water liverwort  

Location: Mound, MN

this grows in my moss garden

water liverwort  
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