Parasol and cocktail glasses ?

No, this article will not really talk about parasols and cocktails. It’s just a catchy title to draw the attention of my readers, who, if they live in Belgium or the UK, are probably coping with a particularly dull and depressing weather at the moment! 😀

While recording flora with a local association (AEF) in the park of a well-known rest-home in Brussels, I stumbled on this, growing on a rocky pathway.

Hey look! Parasols! And little cocktail glasses!  No, really…what could these bizarre greenish things be? True plants? Mosses? Ferns?
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. It belongs to the liverworts, one of the most primitive living plant groups.  Its name ? Marchantia polymorpha, understandably named the umbrella liverwort in English.
Now, why am I showing two pictures?

The first picture is linked to the sexual reproduction of Marchantia (“male/female stuff”!). It is unisexual (some individuals are female, some are male). The picture here shows the female reproductive structures, called archegoniophores. The male ones, antheridiophores, have a similar look, but the top has a flat disk shape.
It is actually a very clever plant : the flat shape of the male structure forms a splash cup. As rain droplets fall on the top, the sperm can be dispersed by splashing 40 to 60 cm away ! After that, the female eggs get fertilized, and spores are liberated.

from Botany IllustratedIntroduction to Plants, Glimn-Lacy, Janice, Kaufman, Peter B., 2006

The second picture displays the asexual reproduction of Marchantia (the “do-it-yourself reproduction”). The little cocktails glasses are called gemma cups : they contain gemmae, small balls of cells that can fall with rain or wind, be dispersed and form a new plant. The new plant made from gemmae is absolutely identical to the mother plant, it’s a clone. Another trick from Marchantia : when droplets fall in the cups, the gemmae can be dispersed up to 120 cm away. An interesting video I found, showing that clever feature :


Liverworts are not particularly spectacular, and yet…they have a very important ecological role, like mosses and hornworts : they retain water and nutrients, they can form a substrate for other plants to grow, they serve as food to mollusks and insects… Medical research could also benefit from liverworts, particularly of the genys Marchantia : extracts seem to have powerful anticancer  and antimicrobial effects.

Primitive plants for sure, but not so primitive functions! 😉

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