UNLV offered fertile ground to Wes Niles. When the biologist and taxonomist came here in 1969, there was little recordkeeping on native plant life in Southern Nevada. So Niles dug in and over the next 30 years amassed roughly 75,000 specimens in the Wes Niles Herbarium, a sort of library for plant species. The unique collection, tucked up on the third floor of the Juanita Greer White Life Sciences building, even includes a variety of buckwheat named for him.
Though Niles retired about six years ago, he still works part time at the herbarium. Most of his work involves finding samples for researchers studying specific plants, their environments, or their unique properties.Researchers in other locales can't visit every single plant's location, so they rely heavily on places like herbariums, which ship preserved plants all over the world. The samples are like pieces of art, with the plant pressed into paper.
While the goal is to document plant life indigenous to the Mojave, Niles and his many graduate students through the years have taken samples of nonindigenous plants in the area as well. Their work helped bring understanding to the types of allergens in the area and how wildfires are linked to the excessive biomass from invading flora.
"One can get the history of the invasion of nonnative plants of Southern Nevada right here," Niles says.
Creator: Wesley E. Niles
Year Started: 1970
Location: Juanita Greer White building, 3rd floor
Purpose: The most extensive collection of native and non-native plant samples in the Mojave Desert - used by academics the world over.