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Little liver plants are unusual Glacier National Park residents

Little liver plants are unusual Glacier National Park residents

Picky bear

Here’s a strange name for you: liverwort.

No, it’s not that weird meat your parents use to make sandwiches. That’s liverwurst, also known as liver sausage.

Liverwurst and liverwort do have the word liver in common. Liverwurst because it is made with the liver of calves and pigs. Liverwort because the plant’s leaves are shaped kind of like a liver. The “wort” part comes from the Latin name for “plant.” 

There are more than 8,000 different species of liverwort, most of which are found in wet tropical areas. You can also find them much farther north, in Glacier National Park's wet areas. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has more than 40 species of liverwort. Some are so hardy they can grow in cold places like Antarctica.

The scientific names for some can be pretty cool, too. Scapania undulata is one species with an unusual name. Or how about Cephalozia bicuspidate?

The plants are unusual in many ways. For one, they don’t have the features most plants use to get their food. They don’t produce seeds, flowers or fruit. To reproduce, they use spores like other simple plants such as mosses, algae and mushrooms. The plants have been around for a long time. Fossils of liverwort have been found dating to more than 470 million years ago.

Liverworts grow close to the ground on soil, rocks and plants. Some animals will eat the plants. Since they hold moisture, they can also break up rocks and help fallen logs rot.

According to Glacier’s website, “A good place to see liverworts is at the waterline of creeks and on shady rock cliffs.” So keep your eyes peeled for little liver plants the next time you hike in a wet area in Glacier National Park.

— Brett French,


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