Field Pennycress

pennycress seed to plant to flowering to seed

 Photos by Kayla Altendorf




Field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) is a winter annual oilseed crop that is being domesticated to fit into Minnesota’s conventional agricultural system. The benefits of using pennycress include protecting the soil over the winter and early spring to reduce soil erosion, nutrient loss, and weed infestations as well as producing oil that can be used as a biofuel feedstock (Johnson et al. 2015, Sedbrook et al. 2014). Pennycress matures in early spring, allowing farmers to plant a double or relay crop.


Description of plant:

Field pennycress is a diploid species of the Brassicaceae family and is closely related to the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. This relationship will allow University breeders to quickly and efficiently domesticate pennycress based on the knowledge of genes that control undesirable traits such as shattering in Arabidopsis. Pennycress seeds are planted in late August-early September, germinate and develop into a rosette form (see Figure 1B). The plant over winters in this stage, flowers and develops seeds in late April-early May and is ready to harvest in early June.

seeds, rosette, flowering, and seedpods on pennycress

Figure 1: Pennycress seed (A), the plant in its basal rosette form (B), mid flowering stage (C) and its seed pods just prior to senescence (C). Photo Credit: Kayla Altendorf.





The University of Minnesota Pennycress breeding program began in 2013 with the goal of developing high yielding, non-shattering, and high germination varieties. Forty-six winter annual pennycress accessions were evaluated in 2014 and 2015 at multiple locations across Minnesota. These accessions have been used as parents to develop 49 breeding populations being evaluated for traits such as earliness, winter hardiness, germination, yield, total oil and glucosinolate content.





The pennycress genome and transcriptome have been sequenced by the Marks Lab at the University of Minnesota (Dorn et al. 2015). For more details or to download the pennycress genome, please see:





Integration of field pennycress and camelina in a field corn production system. The objectives are to i) determine optimal corn stover removal rates and subsequent impacts to soil carbon and oilseed productivity, ii) assess the role planting date and seed dormancy plays in establishment and yield for both the oilseeds and subsequent soybean yield along with providing critical information to the breeding/genetics researchers for future directions. Both objectives were designed with the express goal of increasing oilseed production in a double-cropped soybean system. Beyond determining the agronomic practices that increase the profitability and sustainability of Minnesota farmers, this project was designed to strengthen linkages between breeding/genetics and crop production faculty by providing a field orientated context to test and exchange ideas, along with offering interdisciplinary training to our graduate students. To successfully test objective one, corn stover gradients were achieved by removing a portion of the stover. Oilseed growth characteristics will be assessed throughout the season along with measuring soil organic C which provides an indirect assessment of soil health. Winter oilseed production is expected to be hampered by increasing corn stover rates, whereas, the soil organic C pool is expected to increase or at least be greater in the higher stover rates. The role of planted date and seed dormancy will be determined via field studies utilizing oilseed lines of varying dormancy coupled with gibberellin (i.e. removes dormancy) all interseeded into standing corn.





Genomics and Plant Breeding

Kayla Altendorf, Research Assistant, M.S. Student in Applied Plant Sciences

Jim Anderson, Professor, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Kevin Betts, Senior Scientist, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Rebekah Carlson, Research Assistant, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Kevin DornPost Doctoral Research Associate, Kansas State University

Cole Folstad, Undergraduate Student, Dept. of Plant Biology

Katherine Frels, Post Doctoral Associate, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Axel Garcia y Garcia, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Gabe Gusmini, Research Director, PepsiCo, University of Minnesota

Cody Hoerning, Research Assistant, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Evan Johnson, Laboratory Technician, Dept. of Plant Biology

David Marks, Professor, Dept. of Plant Biology

Lance Miller, Research Assistant, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Winthrop Phippen, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Western Illinois University

John Sedbrook, Associate Professor of Genetics, Illinois State University

Donald Wyse, Professor, Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics



Kevin Anderson, PhD Student in Applied Plant Sciences

Frank Forcella, USDA-ARS

Russell Gesch, USDA-ARS

Reagan Noland, PhD Student in Applied Plant Sciences

M. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, Agronomy and Plant Genetics


Clay Carter, Professor, Department of Plant Biology



Rod Larkins, Director of Research, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute



Funding Sources

Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Variety Development Fund

Minnesota Department of Agriculture

USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

Award amount $1,000,000 
Title: Advancing: Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel Feedstock that does not Require New Land Commitments
PI. M. David Marks - University of Minnesota
CoPI Donald Wyse - University of Minnesota
CoPI James Anderson - University of Minnesota
CoPI John Sedbrook - Illinois State University
CoPI Winthrop Phippen - Western Illinois University
Brief Description: Mutation based (non-GMO) approaches to generate pennycress varieties with desirable phenotypes such as increased yield, reduced dormancy, early maturing, enhanced oil production, more nectar, etc.




External Partners

Albert Lea Seed House

Gandy Agri-turf equipment

Illinois State University

Western Illinois University










Click on a poster image to download a PDF

Katherine Frels poster

Katherine Frels poster, Pennycress systems approach

Katherine Frels poster, Pennycress ecosystem and economic opportunities

Katherine Frels poster, Pennycress multi-use crop

David Marks poster

pennycress poster from 2013 GLBW conference

Poster cover image

Poster cover image


From ‘Weed’ to ‘Worthwhile’: Pennycress Makes Cover Cropping Viable

University of Minnesota Extension
August 31, 2021

pennycress factsheet front page image

IPREFER banner for pennycress cap project

IPREFER is a team of academic researchers, extension/outreach specialists, agricultural producers and commercial interests working to optimize off-season pennycress oilseed production. IPREFER is led by Western Illinois University and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). The project goal is to move pennycress towards a launch as a cash cover crop by 2021. Learn more

Pennycress double-cropping

The Newest Sequencing Technology is Being used to Sequence the Pennycress Genome.



Teaching with Pennycress

teaching with pennycress David Marks classroom montage

Pennycress as Cover Crop

Pennycress interseeded into corn

Image is from a poster presented by Flipp et al. at the Green Lands Blue Waters conference in November 2013.

Pennycress Harvest

Pennycress Harvest, June 2016, University of Minnesota, Forever Green

Pennycress Harvest video shot and edited by Karl Nord.

Pennycress Genomics at U of MN

Pennycress genomics at UMN.mp4