Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
(Brassica kaber, or Sinapis arvensis), early-flowering weed of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), once widespread in grainfields in Europe and North America. Charlock reaches 1 metre (3 feet) and has stiff bristles on the stems and leaves. The long pod fruits, which form after the yellow flowers bloom, each enclose 10 to 12 black seeds that may remain viable for more than a decade. The closely related white mustard (B. hirta or Sinapis alba) has vanilla-fragrant, yellow flowers from which develop three to six large, yellow-seeded, bristly pods, swollen around the seeds. The seeds of both species contain a clear oil that is poisonous to livestock. White mustard seeds are a source of the condiment known as mustard, and the seedlings at the cotyledon stage yield cress.