Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Big topics for attendees at the multiday gathering include water lilies, orchids, cheatgrass and lichens.

SNOWBIRD — Professor Susan R. Kephart stood beside a large poster summarizing results of a study she and a student had carried out. "We're interested in how readily you can reintroduce rare plants back into the native habitat," she said.

Kephart, chairwoman of the biology department at Willamette University, Salem, Ore., and recently graduated student Diane Lofflin headed their poster, "Understanding Rare Plants: Are Reintroduction Projects Successful?"

They had researched the subject extensively and now were presenting their findings at a scientific poster session Tuesday afternoon.

Scores of posters elucidating research projects as diverse as studies of water lilies, orchids, cheatgrass and lichens were tacked to temporary partitions in a huge tent near Snowbird Center. Presenters talked animatedly with other experts.

The scene Tuesday afternoon was just one session among many in "Botany 2004," a meeting that has drawn 900 plant experts and students.

The six-day meeting is sponsored by the Botanical Society of America, American Fern Society, American Bryological and Lichenological Society and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

"We have members throughout the country and internationally," said Jeffrey Osborn, program director of the conference and a official of the Botanical Society, based in St. Louis. The other sponsors also have extensive memberships, he said.

The groups meet together yearly, sometimes joined by other organizations, he said.

Attendees include professional botanists working for colleges and universities, researchers employed by state and federal government agencies like the National Forest Service or conservation services, and students, he said.

"We have about 780 presenters at the conference, and these are presented in a variety of formats." Special lectures by imminent scientists, oral presentations and posters are among the offerings.

A highlight Tuesday was a symposium concerning the 100th anniversary of the discovery of a group of fossil plants called seed ferns, Osborn added.

During Tuesday afternoon's session, bearded experts, college students and others milled around looking at posters and discussing findings. Tables offered botany-oriented items for sale, including mugs, books and green T-shirts.

Kephart explained that Lofflin and she had worked to discover whether plants with a more diverse genetic background would do better than inbred plants, when reintroduced to the wild. They studied varieties of a perennial herb called Silene.

Using plants that had been grown in greenhouses for two years, they found that plants with more diversity in their genes did nearly twice as well as inbred plants, Kephart said.

In a separate part of the study, Lofflin and Kephart compared germination rates of seeds that had been stored for differing lengths of time. "We got real low germination for older seeds," she said. Those more than 5 years old did not grow.

Amy Betzelberger, who is about to start her junior year at Illinois State University, Normal, stood prepared to explain her poster, titled "Cell Growth in the Green Algal Order Coleochaetales (Charophyceae)."

These organisms are much like plants, she began to explain. What? Aren't algae actually plants?

"Green algae are the predecessors of plants," she said. "Not all algae are."

In both green algae and plants there are two basic types of cell growth, she said: diffuse and tip growth. Diffuse growth happens where cell wall material is added throughout the cell, while tip growth happens only at the cell's end.

The study by herself, Karen F. Doty and Martha E. Cook, also of Illinois State, was aimed at further refining understanding of the way green algae grows.

The annual meeting of the four professional societies continues through Thursday.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com