Types of Mosses & Liverworts

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

The mosses and liverworts are a diverse group of simple plants. This lesson explores some of the groups within the mosses and liverworts, and provides facts about these fascinating plants.

What are Mosses and Liverworts

Sometimes simple is good. After all, who doesn't love the simple things in life? Whether that's listening to rain on a metal roof, sleeping on freshly washed sheets, smelling newly cut grass, or admiring mosses and liverworts, sometimes the simple things in life are the best. Hold up. Mosses and liverworts? Well, in the plant world, mosses and liverworts are pretty simple. They are close relatives of the first land plants, and they lack many of the structures of their more complex plant relatives.

More specifically, both mosses and liverworts are nonvascular plants that lack true roots or flowers. They both reproduce using spores and can be found all over the world, but most species prefer moist, shady locations. Let's check out some of the different types of mosses and liverworts.

Types of Mosses

With between 9,500 and 14,500 species of moss (depending on who you ask), there's a lot of moss in the world. We'll go over the four main groups of mosses, just to keep it simple. Unfortunately, the names of all of these mosses aren't quite so simple.

Sphagnopsida (peat moss)

The first moss group we'll look at is Sphagnopsida, sometimes referred to as peat moss or sphagnum moss. This group includes hundreds of mosses that inhabit wet, boggy areas and often grow in large, spongy clumps. These mosses can make soils acidic and are often used as mulch to improve the soils. Acid-loving plants, like blueberries and cranberries, can be found growing among peat moss.

Peat moss is one of many plants that can become peat, which is decayed plant material. Peat has many uses, one of which is an alternative to firewood to heat homes and cook food. In fact, in parts of Europe, peat was harvested and used for this purpose for centuries.

Peat gatherers in 1905 gathering peat, which often includes decaying peat moss
peat gather

Andreaeopsida (lantern or rock moss)

The next group, Andreaeopsida, is also called lantern or rock mosses and can be found growing on rocks. Many species are dark, and they grow in tufts. Part of the plant can look like a lantern, and they grow on rocks, so their nicknames of 'rock' and 'lantern' make sense. You can find members of Andreaeopsida growing in high latitudes and in colder climates.

A type of rock moss
rock moss


The third group of mosses we are highlighting is called Polytrichopsida, which is a group of pioneering plants that can grow in harsh conditions. Pioneer species are the first to grow back in an area after a disturbance, like a flood or fire. There is a lot of variation in this group, with some species being tiny and others being large, like Dawsonia superba, which is the tallest moss in the world.

Polytrichastrum formosum is a type of moss belonging to Polytrichopsida. This species likes wet soil, like many moss species.


The last group of mosses we'll examine is Bryopsida, which is the largest group of mosses, making up 95% of moss species. This is a diverse group, with the commonality among them being a toothed spore capsule. What? Spores get distributed and grow into new mosses, and the capsule just protects the spore. These spore capsules have a 'ring of teeth' which functions as a way to help spores leave the capsule when they are ready to be dispersed.

This moss is a type of Bryopsida belonging to the Fissidens genus


On to the liverworts! It'll be hard to beat the mosses, but the liverworts are up for the challenge. And a good start is their name. Long ago, people thought that liverworts where shaped like a liver. There are upwards of 8,000 species of liverworts. These species fall into two major groups.

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