The conspicuous green plant body of a bryophyte is the haploid, or gametophyte, generation of the plant life cycle. It consists of a small stem with leaflike projections, as in all mosses and most liverworts, or a leafless, flattened body (thallus), as in some liverworts and all hornworts. The plant is anchored by means of threadlike structures called rhizoids. The leaflike structures and the rhizoids lack the complex internal anatomy found in the leaves and roots of plants with vascular systems. The gametophyte reproduces sexually, giving rise to a diploid, or sporophyte, generation; the sporophyte is a structure that grows directly out of the gametophyte and is at least partly dependent on the gametophyte for nourishment.
In mosses, germinating spores (haploid) produce a green filamentous structure on the surface, called a protonema, the first stage of the gametophyte. Erect branches arise out of the protonema. After the branches produce rhizoids, the protonema dies. Antheridia (or sperm-producing structures) and archegonia (egg-producing structures) are borne in clusters on the tips of the branches of the gametophytes; these structures are usually microscopic. The different sex organs may be in a single cluster, in separate clusters on the same branch, or on separate branches, depending on the species. In the hornworts, antheridia and archegonia are borne either on the same thallus or, in some species, on separate thalli; the antheridia are borne either singly or in small groups, and the archegonia are borne singly. In the liverworts, the gametophyte may be a thallus or may be leafy; the antheridia and archegonia are borne on special branches that arise from the leafy stem.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.