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The plants are small. The plant body is a thallus that is not differentiated into root, stem and leaf. It is strap-shaped and about 0.5 to 4 mm wide and branches dichotomously (equally forked). Segments spread out from a central point to form a rosette or hemirosette, and are occasionally gregarious, forming intricate mats.
The thallus is dorsiventrally differentiated. Its upper (dorsal) surface is green and chlorophyll-bearing, with a mid-dorsal longitudinal sulcus (furrow or groove). Air pores occasionally break through the dorsal surface, giving the thallus a dimpled appearance.
The lower (ventral) surface has a mid-ventral ridge bearing multicellular scales that originate as a single row but normally separate into two rows as the thallus widens. The scales are multicellular and and hyaline (glassy) in appearance, or violet due to the pigment anthocyanin.
Rhizoids are nearly lacking in aquatic forms, but there are usually numerous unicellular rhizoids of two types on the ventral surface. One type is called smooth and the other type is the pegged or tuberculated rhizoids; these help in anchorage and absorption. The inner surface of the smooth rhizoids is smooth while that of the tuberculate rhizoid will have internal cell wall projections.
Plants are usually monoicous, and sexual reproduction is by antheridia and archegonia. Asexual reproduction occurs by spores, by fragmentation of the rosettes, and by formation of apical tubers. Spores are large (45 to 200 µ) and formed in tetrads.
- Schuster, Rudolf M. (1992). The Hepaticae and Anthocerotae of North America VI. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History. pp. 421–440. ISBN 0-914868-21-7.
- MacVicar, Symers M. 1971. The student's handbook of British hepatics, p. 12-13. Hitchen Whelden & Wesley, Ltd.; Authorized reprint of the 1926 edition published by Sumfield & Day, Ltd.
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