Nonvascular Plants: Examples, Definition & Characteristics

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

This lesson will explore the world of a small and simple type of plant known as a nonvascular plant. We'll also discuss types of nonvascular plants and their importance in the environment.


How would you describe a plant? Most people would include some of the following terms in their description: green, tall, leaves, branches, stems, and flowers. Although this is what people commonly think of when they think of a plant, there are actually two types of plants: vascular and nonvascular plants, and only one of them matches this common image of a plant.

Vascular plants, such as trees and flowering plants most people think about, have vascular vessels to transport water and food throughout the plant. Within vascular plants is the phloem, the vessel that transports food, and the xylem, which transports water. Nonvascular plants are small, simple plants without a vascular system. They do not have a phloem or xylem.

Nonvascular plants are very small because their lack of a vascular system means they do not have the mechanics required for transporting food and water far distances. Another characteristic of nonvascular plants that sets them apart from vascular plants is that they lack roots. Instead of roots, nonvascular plants have rhizoids, which are small hairs that insert into the substrate to keep the plant in place. Vascular plants have roots not only for support but also to soak up water that is farther away from the plant.

Nonvascular plants are commonly found in moist environments so that they are always close to a water source and can absorb the water right into the main part of the plant without relying on roots. Nonvascular plants also differ from vascular plants based on their reproductive strategies. Unlike some vascular plants that have complex reproductive strategies that include flowers and seeds, nonvascular plants have much more simple reproductive methods. Most nonvascular plants reproduce sexually by creating single-celled spores or asexually by vegetative propagation. Vegetative propagation is when part of the plant breaks off and develops into a new plant with the exact same genetic information as the original plant.

Examples of Nonvascular Plants

Nonvascular plants are also referred to as bryophytes and are divided into three different types, including mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Mosses are the nonvascular plants that are most commonly seen covering the forest floor or covering the trunks of trees. Most mosses have a short central stem with wiry branches and very small leaf-like structures. These bryophytes often look soft and cushiony, or they can also resemble feathers. Mosses are the most common and diverse bryophytes and can even survive in desert environments. Some mosses can survive complete dehydration and then rehydrate when water is available again.


Hornworts have thin branch-like structures and leaves that look similar to soft pine needles. These bryophytes prefer very moist environments, and some are even found submerged in ponds and lakes. Submerged hornworts can grow larger than mosses and liverworts because the water provides them with support and structure.

Liverworts are often called the simplest plant. They are commonly identified by flattened leaves that often grow in two distinctive rows. Due to their flattened leaves, liverworts grow very low to the ground and form large mats over the surface. They can be found in terrestrial or semi-aquatic environments and are often referred to as weeds because they can easily take over farm land if the land is moist enough.

hornwort liverwort

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