317 & 319 Biology/Pharmacy  Bldg.
69 North Eagleville Road
Storrs, CT 06269-3043

1978  2008
Don Les
(Ph.D., The Ohio State University)

Contact Information:
Dr. Donald H. Les
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
75 N. Eagleville Road, Unit 3043
Storrs, CT 06269-3043

Tel: (860) 486-5703
Fax: (860) 486-6364

E-mail: les@uconn.edu



My research focuses on the systematics, evolution and ecology of aquatic flowering plants

Looking for Najas in a Louisiana cypress swamp
 An Everglades 'gator watches as we search for aquatic plants
Eriocaulon plants with some visiting insects

Aquatic plants

Male spathe of Vallisneria natans (photo by Lei Chen)
  Fruits (left to right) of Najas flexilis, N. muenscheri, N. guadalupensis
rare chasmogamous flower of Glossostigma cleistanthum
Nymphaea 'William Phillips', the world's first intersubgeneric hybrid waterlily
Leaf x-section of Glossostigma cleistanthum
    Aquatic plants are of interest to systematic biologists because many of the groups are quite ancient, exhibit extreme plasticity and reduction in form, and generally have been poorly studied.  We reconstruct the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of aquatic plants using a combination of morphological and molecular (DNA sequence) data, which facilitates their evolutionary study.  Results of our research are used to improve the taxonomy of various aquatic plant groups.  Some of our past and present projects have included:

  • Phylogenetic studies (e.g., subclass: Alismatidae; orders: Alismatales; Ceratophyllales, Nelumbonales, Nymphaeales; families: Haloragaceae; Hydrocharitaceae; Lemnaceae; Menyanthaceae; Podostemaceae; Zosteraceae)
  • Aquatic plant hybrids (Aponogeton; Myriophyllum; Najas; Nuphar; Nymphaea; Potamogeton; Vallisneria)
  • Invasive aquatic plants (e.g., Glossostigma; Hydrilla; Myriophyllum)
  • Evolutionary studies of water pollination (hydrophily) and marine colonization (seagrasses)
     I also am the director of the CONN herbarium, which houses the department's collection of plant specimens used for research, teaching and outreach.  These collections include fossil plants, nonvascular plants, algae, and fungi as well as flowering plants (angiosperms).



A complete list of publications by Donald H. Les can be found here


Current Grants

2009–2012. Completing a virtual herbarium at the University of Connecticut. DBI-0847111. National Science Foundation. 

2009–2012. Collaborative Research: Systematic and ecological studies of North American Najas L. (Hydrocharitaceae). DEB-0841658. National Science Foundation.

Bryan Rodrigues databases maple specimens he collected during his CONN herbarium REU internship.
UConn undergraduate Jillian Prescod digitally scans a CONN herbarium specimen as part of our NSF-funded database project. Kathy assumes her post as a veteran databaser.
Lori (right) works with Tina, who has volunteered to help with our specimen database.

The strongly auricled sheaths of Najas section Euvaginatae distinguish the species from section Americanae.
Left to right: Middlebury College students Cassidy Daloia & Vicenta Vhudziak, and their advisor Dr. Sallie Sheldon join forces with my grad student Nic Tippery and UConn UG lab assistant Emmeline Liu, as we begin a 3-year collaborative study of North American Najas. Conspicuous marginal teeth distinguish Najas guadalupensis subsp. floridana (a SEUS endemic) from the other subspecies. This remarkably clear, SW Georgia lake represents one of the few remaining habitats for Najas filifolia, an extremely rare North American endemic.


Field Work

Collecting seagrasses off the coast of Magnetic Island, Australia
More seagrass collecting along Australia's southern coast
This southern USA cypress swamp supports a rich diversity of aquatic plants
A tropical pool in NW Queensland, Australia
I gather some Zostera from a muddy shore in NE Australia



East Twin Lake (Aquatic Plant Biology field trip) Diana's Pool (Aquatic Plant Biology field trip) Colin Young finds Bidens cernua growing out of a tennis ball! Connecticut Master Gardeners attend a CONN herbarium workshop

Primary Courses Taught
EEB 3204/5205: Aquatic Plant Biology (Undergraduate/Graduate)
First semester, alternate years. Four credits. Two lectures and two 3-hour field trip/laboratory periods.
Prerequisite: BIOL 1108 or BIOL 1110, or instructor consent.

Field and laboratory-oriented study of the anatomy, morphology, ecology,
physiology, systematics and evolution of vascular aquatic and wetland plants.
EEB 3271/5271 Systematic Botany (Undergraduate/Graduate)
 Second semester, alternate years. Four credits. Two class periods and two 2-hour laboratory periods.
Prerequisite: BIOL 1108 or BIOL 1110.
Classification, identification, economic importance, evolution and nomenclature of flowering plants.
Laboratory compares vegetative and reproductive characters of major families.
BIOL 1108: Principles Of Biology II (Undergraduate)
Either semester. May be taken in either order with BIOL 1107. Four credits. Three class periods and one 3-hour laboratory period.
Students may not receive more than 12 credits for courses in biology at the 1000's level.
A course designed to provide a foundation for more advanced courses in Biology and related sciences.
Topics covered include ecology, evolution, genetics, and  plant biology.
A fee of $10 is charged for this course. CA 3-LAB.


Graduate Students and Lab Alumni
Prospective grad students should contact me by e-mail and also refer to the information provided here.
Lori Benoit aligns hydrilla sequences Dr. Bob Capers (manager, CONN herbarium) in Costa Rica Dr. Tim Gerber (UW-La Crosse) Dr. Michael Moody (UWA) looks for water milfoils

Dr. Don Padgett (Bridgewater State College) Nic Tippery "bags" some Nymphoides for his research. Dr. Chris Martine (SUNY Plattsburg) Amy Weiss waits out a storm while hunting Cabomba in Australia.


Getting Around

We enjoy some lunch on an eastern Finland bog - in January! I hold a baby Tasmanian Devil in Hobart Pitcher plants (Sarracenia) in a southern Georgia bog Nic Tippery in a southern Mississippi wetland

Lori Benoit (left) discusses Hydrilla with TNC staff during  a training session.   Collecting aquatic plants always is exciting!
Aponogeton lancesmithii in northeastern Queensland, so named for its discoverer (see right)
Lance Smith brings me some Aponogeton from his commercial aquatic pools
A vintage photo showing some of Australia's ferocious wildlife. Some specimens should NEVER be collected.
Subtle natural landmarks help us to locate Nymphaeas in a remote section of Queensland.
Key provisions for Aussie field work
A lethal brown snake awaits wary plant collectors in the "Atherton Tablelands" The tropics down under Australian aquatic plant expert Surrey Jacobs as we end another day of field work. Beautifully reflective gum trees (Nyssa) in South Carolina