Gymnocolea inflata

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Identification notes

This dioicous leafy liverwort takes its specific name from the appearance of its perianth, which, when fertilised, is smooth and inflated and resembles a tubular balloon at the tips of the female plants. A little-known fact about G. inflata is that unfertilised perianths readily detach from the shoots and disperse as vegetative propagules.

Male plants and sterile shoots are more of a challenge to identify. Fortunately, there are few other liverworts of the same size with bluntly bilobed leaves that narrow at the base and are obliquely inserted on the stem. G. inflata likes acid ground, such as wet heaths and dry heavy metal mine spoil (where it often grows with Pohlia nutans), so knowing its habitat can be very helpful in making an identification.

There are two subspecies:

  • G. inflata subsp. inflata: our commonest species, which includes a form with abundant small-leaved innovations formerly recognised as G. inflata var. heterostipa.
  • G. inflata subsp. acutiloba: a very rare plant of montane boulder scree, formerly recognised as G. acutiloba. It differs from subsp. inflata in having acute or sub-acute leaf lobes.
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Distribution in Great Britain and Ireland

View distribution from the BBS Atlas 2014

Similar Species

G. inflata could be confused with some Mesoptychia (Leiocolea) species, but habitat requirements are quite different. Gymnocolea is a plant of acidic places whereas Mesoptychia species grow in calcareous habitats.