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The Back Story: Where Champions Are Grown
What does it take to be a champion? Well, you have to be big, tall, and well groomed. And it helps to have a giant crown too.
I’m talking about champion trees, and we have 10 of them at UNLV.
In 1992, the Nevada Division of Forestry launched the Nevada Big Tree Register to combat the myth that the state exists in a barren, treeless desert. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and the Silver State’s hidden arboreal gem — its emerald in the desert — is UNLV. Nestled within the canopy of the more than 4,300 trees on campus are the 10 biggest and best specimens of their kind found anywhere in the state, including Reno.
Recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA, our entire 330-acre campus is an arboretum — an outdoor museum of sorts for trees and shrubs, both native and introduced. Every one of UNLV’s trees is logged on myTreeKeeper.com. A resource that overlays Google maps, it identifies trees by type, and calculates overall greenhouse gas and energy benefits. Next time you’re on campus, bring a pocket arborist with you by downloading the TreeKeeper app.
UNLV has cultivated its campus to showcase plants that do well with the right care in our climate. Here's a little bit more about our champions.
Perched upon a grassy pedestal just outside the Carlson Education Building, this champion is 20 feet tall with a 30-foot spread. You won’t find the weeping mulberry in the wild, though, as it was an ornamental oddity produced from cuttings of the Chinese white mulberry. Its long, loping branches create an umbrella-like effect, which may have led to its moniker as the campus "kissing tree." [Read about one couple's engagement under the tree.]
First things first: You wouldn’t make shortcake with these berries, though its fruit is edible and tastes kind of like a fig. But it has a well-earned reputation as the king of all patio trees. Our 21-foot specimen is near the Chemistry Building. With cinnamon-colored bark and beautifully intricate branches, this Mediterranean masterpiece has inspired poems and cocktails and it does well in our harsh desert climate.
Blue Palo Verde
A native in our region, the blue palo verde is a bit larger, than the dense, bright green-trunked foothill Palo Verdes seen throughout the region. It’s the state tree of Arizona, but Nevada’s best example – a 41-foot beauty with golden yellow flowers –welcomes visitors to the Barrick Museum of Art. This tree isn’t the best for lawns, but with its blue-gray tint,pops as part of a water-smart desert landscape.
Camperdown Weeping Elm
Ulmus glabra Camperdownii
The Scotland native isn’t common in the Southwest — it isn’t really that common anywhere. Folks in Oregon made a big fuss this year when a few camperdowns were relocated from their state capitol; no fuss was made when ours was moved from the grassy knoll near the Flashlight to its current position in the 1990s. Located by Carlson Education Building, our 11-foot specimen is tucked within the cluster of weeping mulberries and easy to miss.
Heralded as a great background option in a landscape, we think our 24-foot champion does just fine nestled against White Hall by itself. Also known as a Buddhist pine, it native to China and Japan and resistant to termites. Its long, narrow leaves, on the other hand, are toxic to pets. Oh, and though it’s a conifer, it’s not really a pine or a yew. Now yew know.
The desert willow looks a bit mangy in winter, but its pale pink flowers and bright green leaves more than make up for it in spring and summer. Our 42-foot champion overlooks the Research Administration Building and though off the beaten path is more than worth the walk. And since it’s a native, the desert willow is easy to care for and equally easy to find in local nurseries.
You’d better be looking up — and not at your phone — this graceful 52-foot chapmpion outside the Lily Fong Geosciences Building. Its clusters of soft, long needless start well above your head. These trees originated in the low altitudes of the Himalayas and its resin is used medicinally to treat chronic aches and pains. It is a moderate water user that does well in Southern Nevada’s less-than-stellar soils.
This stout, slow-growing evergreen with striking white flowers rarely tops 20 feet – the height of our champion. Its natural inclination is to resemble a shrub, though it is easily coaxed into a tree-like form with pruning. It struggles in freezing temperatures, so you’re unlikely to see it in Northern Nevada. Not a true olive, the name must come from its olive-like fruit. Some say it’s edible; others say it’s not.
Heritage Live Oak
A fast-growing tree that’s adapted well for desert conditions, the Heritage Live Oak is a cultivar of the Southern Live Oak. Its evergreen-like appearance gives it strong curb appeal all year round. Our 60-foot champion rests unassumingly on the Academic Mall near one of UNLV’s oldest buildings, Grant Hall. It’s common in Southern Nevada, and with its long life span, once you plant one it’s yours for life.
The Sissoo, or Indian Rosewood, has boomed in popularity. And what’s not to love? It’s relatively inexpensive, grows rapidly, and thrives in hot weather. With our champion located in the Barrick Museum parking lot, you might be lucky enough to enjoy some of its award-winning shade the next time you park on campus on a hot summer day. In its native India, the tree is prized for its beautiful grain and used to make striking furniture.
About the Specimens
The pressings come courtesy of UNLV’s Wesley E. Niles Herbarium, which has amassed more than 65,000 specimens. The herbarium offers the best single representation available of the Mojave Desert flora. Visitors are welcome. Call 702-895-3098.
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