Veilwort (Pallavicinia lyellii)

Veilwort on soil
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Veilwort fact file

Veilwort description

GenusPallavicinia (1)

Veilwort is a thalloid liverwort, meaning that these liverworts do not have stems and leaves, but consist of a 'thallus', a flattened 'body' just a few cells thick (3). Veilwort is pale green in colour (2) and easily recognised by its obvious raised midrib (3), which has a strand of elongated conducting cells passing along the centre (2).

Thalli length: up to 4 cm (2)

Veilwort biology

Liverworts, hornworts and mosses form a group of simple plants called bryophytes (2). Bryophytes lack many of the more complex structures of the higher plants, such as a vascular system, and flowers. They do not have roots, instead they have structures called 'rhizoids' which absorb water and anchor the plant to the substrate. In liverworts these rhizoids each consist of a single elongated cell (3).

Bryophytes have an interesting life cycle consisting of two main parts, called the gametophyte and sporophyte generations, the gametophyte stage is dominant (4). Plants that are in the gametophyte stage can reproduce sexually. Male organs (antheridia) produce antherozoids which move to the female organs (archegonia). Fertilisation occurs and a 'sporophyte' develops, this structure remains attached to the plant. The sporophyte releases spores which disperse and develop into a new plant (4).

This species tends to grow in summer, and sporophytes are only rarely produced (2). Some UK populations appear to consist of just one sex, so spores cannot be produced; this may cause problems with dispersal and colonisation (2).

All liverworts are so named because the lobed types were thought to resemble the liver. During Medieval times, common belief held that the appearance of a plant indicated which part of the human body it could cure; liverworts were thought to cure liver ailments (5).


Veilwort range

This species appears to have undergone a significant decline, particularly in the north of England. It has become extinct in North Yorkshire, South Lancashire, West Sussex and Westmoreland (2). The number of sites in England and Wales that support the species has been reduced from 26 around 200 years ago, to 17 in 1950 and just 10 in 1970 (2). Veilwort has a wide distribution globally, being particularly widespread in tropical areas, but it is vulnerable in continental Europe (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Veilwort habitat

Tends to inhabit the edges of raised bogs or cut-over areas, growing amongst clumps of purple moor grass or rushes (2). It has also been recorded from the bases of trees in carrs, on wet sandstone, on the banks of sandy or peaty ditches and streams, on rotting wood, and even on rotting leather, including an old boot on Wimbledon Common (2).


Veilwort status

Classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain (2).


Veilwort threats

The threats to the species are not understood (2), but are thought to include drainage, over-shading caused by scrub encroachment, and climbing activities where the species occurs on sandstone (4).


Veilwort conservation

Five remaining populations occur within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), one of which is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) (4). Veilwort is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority species, and a Species Action Plan has been produced (4).

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.


Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



Term used to describe wet habitats. In East Anglia it is used to refer to wet woodlands, especially alder woods.
A life cycle stage in plants, which has one set of chromosomes (threads of DNA protein) in the cell nucleus (a condition known as ‘haploid’), which arises from a spore (which is also haploid). Sex cells (gametes) are produced during the gametophyte stage. This is the dominant life-cycle stage in liverworts and mosses.
Thread-like structures that help to anchor the plant to the substrate, and absorb minerals and water. In liverworts they consist of a single cell, in mosses they are multi-cellular.
Microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction. They comprise a single or group of unspecialised cells and do not contain an embryo, as do seeds.
The stage of a plant life cycle that produces spores (microscopic particles used in dispersal and reproduction). This stage is diploid (in the cell nucleus there are two sets of chromosomes - threads of DNA protein) and is dominant in ‘higher’ plants such as flowering plants.
Type of simple plant body that does not have stems, leaves and roots.
Vascular system
In plants, the system that allows water and nutrients to move around.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( July 2002)
  2. Church, J. M., Hodgetts, N. G., Preston, C. D. and Stewart, N. F. (2001) British Red Data Books: mosses and liverworts. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
  3. Mosses and Liverworts in Wales (May 2002):
  4. UK BAP Species Action Plan (May 2002):
  5. Egerton, H. & Jones, F. (1998) Nature Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley, London.

Image credit

Veilwort on soil  
Veilwort on soil

© Alan Hale

Alan Hale


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