A new species of liverwort has just been identified in Wellington and named after local amateur botanist Rodney Lewington (1935–2018). Botanist Lara Shepherd tells us more about liverworts and Rodney’s contribution to New Zealand botany.
What are liverworts?
Liverworts, along with mosses and hornworts, belong to the group of small plants known as bryophytes. Bryophytes don’t have flowers but instead reproduce with spores.
There are around 7,500 species of liverwort worldwide. New Zealand is a hotspot for liverworts with around 5–10% of the known liverwort species occurring here.
Their homes are usually damp, sheltered ngahere (forests).
There are two groups of liverworts.
Thalloid liverworts usually look like somewhat flat green pancakes.
In contrast, leafy liverworts have leaves and stems and are often mistaken for mosses.
Cheilolejeunea rodneyi, the new species found in Wellington
In 2017 Te Papa Research Associate Peter Beveridge found a tiny, leafy liverwort growing on the trunk of a beech tree in Remutaka Forest Park.
It didn’t look like any of the known species of liverwort.
Close study of its features and comparison of its DNA with other liverworts confirmed that it is a new species.
In December 2019 the name Cheilolejeunea rodneyi was published. Peter named the liverwort after Rodney Lewington who Peter considered a mentor, and they frequently went on fieldwork together.
It has only been found at three locations, all within the Wellington region.
It is possible that this species is more common but that it has been overlooked in the past (the shoots are only around 1mm wide).
The description of this new species brings the total number of Cheilolejeunea species in New Zealand to 11, four of which are found nowhere else.
It is likely that more species of Cheilolejeunea liverworts remain to be discovered in New Zealand.
About Rodney Lewington
In the 1980s Rodney became interested in mosses and then liverworts, becoming one of New Zealand’s experts in the latter group.
Rodney was a passionate teacher and generously shared his knowledge by regularly giving talks and bryophyte identification workshops.
Sadly, Rodney passed away in 2018 but he was with Peter when Cheilolejeunea rodneyi was collected from the Hutt Valley and knew about the dedication.
Rodney was well known in the botanical community and was posthumously awarded the New Zealand Botanical Society’s 2019 Allan Mere Award, which recognises the contribution of outstanding New Zealand botanists.
He had been an active member of the Wellington Botanical Society since 1961 and was heavily involved with the Otari-Wilton’s Bush Trust.
Rodney also donated over 4,000 plant specimens to Te Papa’s herbarium.