Sunday, October 10, 2010

Castor Beans

Last spring a friend who was cleaning out some of her flower beds invited me to come over and help myself to some of the clumps of daylilies and other things that needed thining.  Amoung the things I came back with were some castor bean plants. 

Tom was happy that I had brought these home because he said he had read where they helped to repel deer.  However, he cautioned me that the seeds were poisonous, so not to think we could eat them.  Well, I was not familiar with castor beans and really did not know what to expect of them.   But, this had peaked my curiousity and was I in for a surprise!

Tom took most of them out to the garden and planted them around at various places.  I'm not sure they helped much to repel deer.  (See my post of September 14 about the peppers that the deer grazed on.)  However, I saved one to plant near my herb garden. 

This thing grew into the most awesome plant.  It is taller than me (over 5' 4") and has huge leaves about the size of dinner plates that are dark purple when they are young and turn to a sort of greenish purple as they age.  It is a very striking plant and is quite pretty.  Here is a picture of it.

The flowers of the plant are very strange looking.  You can see a couple of flower stalks through the foliage of the plant.  But, here is one close up.

I didn't know what to expect the seeds to look like and, again, this plant surprised me.  The seeds grow inside marble-sized, spiny pods.  You can see some of these in the above picture.  These pods dry and become hard.  There are three seeds in each pod.  See below.

The seeds are grayish, streaked with black and shiny.  Although they look like beans, they are not even related to beans or the legume family and they are, in fact, deadly for one to eat.  This is why many people cut the flower stems off before they produce seed.

The Latin name for the castor plant is Ricinus communisCommunis means common in Latin and Ricinus is the Latin word for tick.  Apparently, it is so named because the seeds look somewhat like ticks, particularly large ticks engorged with blood.  Yuck!  I think that thought alone would keep me from eating them!

Anyway, castor plants purportedly repel moles.  And, there are a number of industrial applications for castor oil.  When dehydrated, castor oil is converted into a quick-drying oil used extensively in paints and varnishes.  In fact, one of the largest single uses for castor oil in the United States is in the paint and varnish industry.  Some experts say that dehydrated castor oil has qualities superior to linseed oil and tung oil.  Castor oil also has water resistant qualities that make it ideal for coating fabrics and for protective coverings, insulation, food containers, and guns.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the description of this plant. I have just recently acquired some seeds myself. I am waiting to see what surprise it has for me, when I start planting in the spring.