The plant hormone ethylene has many roles in growth and development1. In seed plants, the ethylene precursor 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) is converted into ethylene by ACC oxidase (ACO), and treatment with ACC induces ethylene responses2. However, non-seed plants lack ACO homologues3–8, which led us to examine the relationship between ACC and ethylene in the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha. Here, we demonstrate that ACC and ethylene can induce divergent growth responses in Marchantia. Ethylene increases plant and gemma size, induces more gemma cups and promotes gemmae dormancy. As predicted, Mpctr1-knockout mutants display constitutive ethylene responses, whereas Mpein3-knockout mutants exhibit ethylene insensitivity. Compared with the wild type, Mpctr1 gemmae have more and larger epidermal cells, whereas Mpein3 gemmae have fewer and smaller epidermal cells, suggesting that ethylene promotes cell division and growth in developing gemmae. By contrast, ACC treatment inhibits gemma growth and development by suppressing cell division, even in the Mpein3-knockout alleles. Knockout mutants of one or both ACC SYNTHASE (ACS) gene homologues produce negligible levels of ACC, have more and larger gemma cups, and have more-expanded thallus branches. Mpacs2 and Mpacs1 Mpacs2 gemmae also display a high frequency of abnormal apical notches (meristems) that are not observed in ethylene mutants. These findings reveal that ethylene and ACC have distinct functions, and suggest that ACC is a signalling molecule in Marchantia. ACC may be an evolutionarily conserved signal that predates its efficient conversion to ethylene in higher plants.