snakeskin liverwort

(Conocephalum salebrosum)

Conservation Status
snakeskin liverwort
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked


not listed


Snakeskin liverwort, also called snakewort. is a large, widespread, very common, non-vascular plant (bryophyte). It occurs in throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the northern hemisphere. In the United States it occurs from coast to coast. It is common in eastern Minnesota. It is found at the sides of streams, near springs, and at the bases of wet cliffs, sandstone outcroppings, and rocks. It grows on lime rich (calcareous) soil in moist or wet areas that have full shade or dappled sun and are protected from wind. It often forms colonies of overlapping plants, sometimes creating extensive mats.

The vegetative body is a large, branched, ribbon-like, more or less flat, plant body (thallus). The cells of a thallus are not differentiated into organs. It has no stem, leaves, vascular system, or true roots. The branching creates lobes that are 3 to 9½ (8 to 24 cm) long, to (10 to 22 mm) wide, 1 32 (0.7 mm) thick near the center, 1 64 (0.2 mm) at the margin. The lobes are opaque, appear leathery. The midrib is poorly defined and the margins are wavy. Younger lobes often split from the base, creating a new clonal plant. Eventually, the older lobes wither away.

The upper surface is dull to shiny, hairless, and yellowish-green to dark green, darkest in the middle. It turns purple in the winter. It is covered by conspicuous raised polygons separated by narrow, darker-colored, depressions. The polygons are the upper wall of a relatively large air chamber. In the center of each polygon there is a single open pore used for gas exchange. The pore is whitish and is usually visible without magnification. Unlike in vascular plants, in which the pores can be closed, in liverworts the pores remain open. This prevents the plant from controlling evaporation. As a result, liverworts are restricted to moist and wet areas protected from sun and wind. The lower surface is light green. On each side of the midrib there is a single sparse row of 3 16 (5 mm) long scales. Bundles of smooth, (10 mm) long, root-like filaments (rhizoids) along the midrib anchor the thallus to the soil. Longer rhizoids, these with small rounded projections (tubercles) extend horizontally and help to keep the thallus moist. The thallus produces a strong odor when crushed.

Liverworts reproduce both sexually and asexually. Other large thallus-producing (thalloid) liverworts produce gemmae, tiny masses of cells that disperse to form new plants. Snakeskin liverwort does not produce gemmae. Vegetative reproduction occurs when a piece of the brittle thallus breaks off and is easily transported by water. Rarely, tubers develop on the underside of old thalli and produce new plants.

Male and female reproductive organs are embedded in receptacles and are produced on separate plants. Colonies are often all male or all female. The structures appear on the upper surface of the thallus near the tip of a lobe, frequently on male plants, infrequently on female plants. On male plants, the receptacle is stalkless, slightly raised, and usually circular, sometimes oval or semi-circular. The male sexual reproductive organ (antheridia) is embedded in the receptacle. At maturity, the sperm is released in a jet of air. On female plants, the receptacle is a brownish, dome-shaped, sexual reproductive organ (archegonia) with several drooping lobes at the end of an erect, up to 4 (10 cm) long stalk. It looks like a tiny umbrella.




Prostrate: 3 to 9½ (8 to 24 cm) long


Similar Species

  The large size of this species distinguishes it from most other liverworts.  

Moist or wet. Streamsides, springs, cliff bases. Full shade to dappled sun. Calcareous soil.








Distribution Map



4, 7, 24, 29, 30.








Very common and widespread

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Marchantiophyta (liverworts)  
  Class Marchantiopsida (complex thalloid liverworts)  
  Subclass Marchantiidae  


Marchantiales (complex thallose liverworts)  





This species was formerly classified as Conocephalum conicum. A morphological study of herbarium specimens published in 2005 showed that two similar but morphologically distinct species shared that classification, and that only one of those species occurs in North America. The species found in North American was given the name Conocephalum salebrosum. It occurs in throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the northern hemisphere. The other species retained the name Conocephalum conicum. It probably occurs only in Europe. The European species is larger and shinier.


Subordinate Taxa






Conocephalum conicum


Common Names


cat-tongue liverwort

common mushroom-headed liverwort

dull snakeskin liverwort

great scented liverwort

mushroom-headed liverwort

snakeskin liverwort











Alkaline; rich in limestone; containing a high proportion of calcium carbonate.



In mosses and liverworts: A vegetative, reproductive cell or mass of cells that detaches from the parent and can develop into a new individual. Plural: gemmae.



A filament arising from the lower stem of a moss, liverwort, or alga that anchors it to a substrate.



In lichens: The vegetative body of a lichen composed of both the alga and the fungus. In liverworts: a flat, relatively undifferentiated plant body. Plural: thalli.

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Nancy Falkum

    snakeskin liverwort   snakeskin liverwort  

Wendy Johnson


Spotted in wooded, spring-fed pothole bog in maple and mixed hardwood and white pine forest. East side of Thoroughfare Creek.

  snakeskin liverwort  
    snakeskin liverwort   snakeskin liverwort  
    snakeskin liverwort      
    snakeskin liverwort   snakeskin liverwort  
    snakeskin liverwort      
    snakeskin liverwort   snakeskin liverwort  
    snakeskin liverwort      



Conocephalum salebrosum
Amadej Trnkoczy
  Conocephalum salebrosum  

Conocephalum salebrosum
Slo.: ?

Dat.: April 9. 2010
Lat.: 46.34263 Long.: 13.58038
Code: Bot_410/2010-1847

Habitat: Rocky almost vertical road cut, northwest oriented, in mixed woods, quite damp and shady place, cretaceous clastic rock (flysh) bedrock, mixed with mosses, average precipitations ~ 3.000 mm/year, average temperature 8-10 deg C, elevations 520 m (1.700 feet), alpine phytogeographical region.

Substratum: cracked flysh rock

Place: Bovec basin, next to a dirt local road leading north from Kal-Koritnica village, East Julian Alps, Posočje, Slovenia EC

Comment: Thalli dimensions, less shiny upper surface than C. conicum and grooves between 'cells' speak in favor of C. salebrosum. Nevertheless, the determination is not certain. These are fruiting female plants with terminal, stalked, conical receptacles.

(1) Ian Atherton, Ed., Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland - a field guide, British Bryological Society (2010), p255.




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Other Videos
  A thalose liverwort in the oak creek canyon, Ouray, Colorado.
Mike's thoughts on plants.

Oct 25, 2021

The lesser know Conocephalum salebrosum, another cool growing moss relative in this canyon. I really need to spend the day looking over the forest floor as I keep finding interesting plants.




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  Nancy Falkum

Location: Whitewater WMA, Main Branch Unit

snakeskin liverwort  
  Nancy Falkum

Location: Whitewater WMA, Main Branch Unit

snakeskin liverwort  
  Wendy Johnson

Location: Fish Trap Lake, Motley, MN

Spotted in wooded, spring-fed pothole bog in maple and mixed hardwood and white pine forest. East side of Thoroughfare Creek.

snakeskin liverwort  




Created: 10/2/2019

Last Updated:

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