Monday, June 8, 2009

Caster Oil Plants

Image: A large Caster Oil Plant Ricinus communis. A Wikipedia picture.

Isn't this a beautiful landscape annual (in this zone)? It can be huge in height, glossy green or red tinted leaves and the leaves can be up to 18 inches long. It has a tropical look at maturity.

I have fertilized with fish emulsion (poo poo) and apparently it is the plant's nectar, helping it to grow very full.

As the name indicates, the beans produced on the plant is the source of caster oil. Although not used by today's mothers, in my day every kid got a dose on a weekly basis.
Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC being used mostly to fuel lamps because of the slow burning oil.

Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes. The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical treatise believed to date from 1552 BC. Translated in 1872, it describes Castor oil as a laxative. Not sure if the bright whites of eyes and the laxative effects are tied. . .
A farm product, global Castor seed production is around 1 million tons per year. The leading producer is India. The plants or seeds are offered by most mail order nurseries for ornamental purposes.

The plant produces pretty red rose colored flowers on a stem at the top of the plant. The flower is usually a round ball that is prickly and contains several seeds. When fall approaches, the flower splits and the seeds are distributed.
The seeds are shiny black, spotted, about an inch and bean shaped. The seed coat contains ricin, a toxin, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant. Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be 4 to 8 seeds, reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare.

If you have children or pets in your yard, the easiest way to have this beautiful plant and not worry about the poison is to clip off the flower stalks as they develop. This will not stunt the plant. Dispose of the flower heads in your trash and do not compost.
If you choose to keep the seeds to plant another year, they should be stored where they are not accessible to children or pets. Do not store near food products so they will not be mistaken as a food bean.

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