A new liverwort species for Wellington

A new liverwort species for Wellington

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

Thalloid liverworts usually look like somewhat flat green pancakes.

Marchantia sp., a thalloid liverwort. Kapiti Coast. Photo by Lara Shepherd. Te Papa

Leafy liverworts

In contrast, leafy liverworts have leaves and stems and are often mistaken for mosses.

Here are some more clues for distinguishing between mosses and leafy liverworts.

Schistochila repleta, a leafy liverwort. Hunua Range. Photo by Peter de Lange

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).

A scanning electron microscope image of Cheilolejeunea rodneyi. Image by David Glenny.

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.

Here is the paper describing the new liverwort Cheilolejeunea rodneyi.

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.

Rodney Lewington hunting for liverworts in Abel Tasman National Park, 26 March 2010. Photo by Peter Beveridge

Sadly, Rodney passed away in 2018 but he was with Peter when Cheilolejeunea rodneywas 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.

Rodney’s wife Darea accepts the Allan Mere on behalf of Rodney from the New Zealand Botanical Society President Anthony Wright. Darea shared Rodney’s love of botany and provided support and assistance for many of Rodney’s botanical endeavours, 2019. Photo by Lara Shepherd. Te Papa

1 Comment

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    Thank you for this very interesting item. Bryophytes are so easy to overlook but moss, in particular en masse, is such a beautiful feature in forests.

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