by Ian Brand

I AM unashamedly going to indulge in advertising, as the Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society winter series of Tuesday evening talks, start in September at Christchurch on The Grove in Ilkley. More information is available on the website

If you are free, why not come along? I am talking on Tuesday 24th September at 7.30pm (free to members and £2.50 for non-members). The title of the talk “Weeds Glorious Weeds; gardeners’ enemy or botanists’ friend?”

As a way of an appetiser, I want to tell you about one of my favourite “weeds”, Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). I believe it is deserving of a Nobel Prize, BAFTA or Oscar! This small and insignificant looking plant has been the cornerstone of plant research, much like the fruit fly (Drosophila) has done for animal genetics.

Many of you will remember the fanfare in June 2000 with the widely covered news that the draft version of the human genome had been completed, with full publication in 2003.

Almost slipping by unnoticed six months later, in December 2000, was the publication of the complete gene sequence of Thale Cress, the first flowering plant to have its genome sequenced. Thale Cress was an ideal plant to choose, having just five short pairs of chromosomes, and as such has been widely used in genetic research.

As we celebrate 50 years since Man has first walked on the Moon, I am also reminded it is not only Man who has been into Space. In 1997 on the Mir space station, Thale Cress became the first flowering plant to complete its life cycle in space i.e. germinating from seed, growing, flowering and then setting seed.

Again it was an ideal choice, having a life cycle of just six weeks and also self-pollinating, i.e. not requiring insect or wind to aid pollination.

Thale Cress’s short life cycle allows multiple generations in any one year, and combined with self-pollination, a long flowering period and the production of large numbers of seeds are among the reasons why it is also a very successful weed.

If you would like to know more about weeds, why the German army was thankful for the stinging nettle, how the dandelion got its name and why Leeds City station is much like a botanical garden and much more then join me on September 24th at Christchurch.