Monday, March 15, 2010

castor bean

In one of my seed swaps a  while back someone asked for  some castor bean seeds. In one of our  correspondences  I was asked for a bit of information on them and I completely forgot to give  her any answers. I remembered the query the other day  while working on some garden beds  and I decided I better get some answers to her before she plants them.I do not want her coming to me next fall wanting to do me permanent bodily harm.

Castor is a beautiful plant and it has some  uses medicinally,  as bio fuel, in  lubricants  as well as for supposed mole control. At the same time the seeds are poisonous, VERY poisonous, one milligram of seed can kill an adult. They  contain  Ricin in the seed and are deadly. In fact gloves should be worn when working with the plant at all times. Many people simply grow the plant for decorative purposes and cut the seed stalk off while it is forming eliminating most of the problem with the plant. Even so, care must be taken when handling the plant as well as it emits compounds that can cause allergic reactions or even  nerve ending damage in certain people. I have  read that in some states to possess the beans and to grow the plants is illegal, I have not found anything to validate that claim however.  For a more in depth write up on  the dangers and some of the viable uses of  the plant here is a really nice link.

All that said,  if one chooses to grow  castor beans for whatever reason, they really are a beautiful, fun to grow  plant with  some stunning colors and foliage. They love high temps and humidity but are also drought tolerant. There are several different types of castor all having different highlights, leaf and stalk  colors. Castor is rapid growing and can get ginormous in one season. A plant can get 15 foot tall and 6 foot around in one growing season. These things are like trees, literally.  The root systems are nuts and  can often be grown as a perennial rather than an annual. Do NOT plant these in a veggie garden bed, they really need their own space because of the root system. They do however make great shade providing canopies for smaller plants.

When planting, soak the bean in water  overnight then scratch the surface of the seed. Plant one inch deep and watch them grow.In the fall either trim back the plant to the ground and treat it as a perennial or pull  at discard. Do NOT burn. Do NOT compost.

Here is a picture of the root of a plant  and of a seed stalk. Each spiny ball contains 3 seeds enclosed in a thin shell.

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