The Parsimony Ratchet1 is presented as a new method for analysis of large data sets. The method can be easily implemented with existing phylogenetic software by generating batch command files. Such an approach has been implemented in the programs DADA (Nixon, 1998) and Winclada (Nixon, 1999). The Parsimony Ratchet has also been implemented in the most recent versions of NONA (Goloboff, 1998). These implementations of the ratchet use the following steps: (1) Generate a starting tree (e.g., a “Wagner” tree followed by some level of branch swapping or not). (2) Randomly select a subset of characters, each of which is given additional weight (e.g., add 1 to the weight of each selected character). (3) Perform branch swapping (e.g., “branch-breaking” or TBR) on the current tree using the reweighted matrix, keeping only one (or few) tree. (4) Set all weights for the characters to the “original” weights (typically, equal weights). (5) Perform branch swapping (e.g., branch-breaking or TBR) on the current tree (from step 3) holding one (or few) tree. (6) Return to step 2. Steps 2–6 are considered to be one iteration, and typically, 50–200 or more iterations are performed. The number of characters to be sampled for reweighting in step 2 is determined by the user; I have found that between 5 and 25% of the characters provide good results in most cases. The performance of the ratchet for large data sets is outstanding, and the results of analyses of the 500 taxon seed plant rbcL data set (Chase et al., 1993) are presented here. A separate analysis of a three-gene data set for 567 taxa will be presented elsewhere (Soltis et al., in preparation) demonstrating the same extraordinary power. With the 500-taxon data set, shortest trees are typically found within 22 h (four runs of 200 iterations) on a 200-MHz Pentium Pro. These analyses indicate efficiency increases of 20×–80× over “traditional methods” such as varying taxon order randomly and holding few trees, followed by more complete analyses of the best trees found, and thousands of times faster than nonstrategic searches with PAUP. Because the ratchet samples many tree islands with fewer trees from each island, it provides much more accurate estimates of the “true” consensus than collecting many trees from few islands. With the ratchet, Goloboff's NONA, and existing computer hardware, data sets that were previously intractable or required months or years of analysis with PAUP* can now be adequately analyzed in a few hours or days.