Monday, March 15, 2010
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.