In a recent visit to London’s Regent Park I noticed a beautiful and exotic looking plant, Ricinus communis commonly known as the caster oil plant is a species the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae and it is part of the monotypic genus. It is a fast growing shrub where in its native regions can grow up to 12 meters, however in climates like England it is grown as an annual in posts and usually it is about less than a meter tall but it could reach 2 or 3 meters.
The glossy palmate leaves usually have a darker deep reddish purple color that later do turn green. It is native to Mediterranean, East Africa and India but it is found in many places and grows well in the tropics as well.
It is grown both for its beauty as well as medicinal purpose. The seeds that are all called beans or castor beans are not actually beans but they are used to make castor oil. The seeds are produced in a red spiky capsules that are rather dramatic in a garden. The flowers are smaller and not as significant as the seed pods which stand out more beautifully. The seeds are poisonous yet they product castor oil and the leaves are used for other medicinal purposes to help the liver.
Castor oil is also used as a motor oil. Castor Oil plant likes full sun so south facing or west facing exposure is best. And it prefers a well-drained rich soil. The flowers are yellow but not as significant as the color of the leaves and stems and the seed pods.
There are a variety of cultivated versions:
- Carmencita Red: has reddish stems and darker purplish leaves but red seed pods grows to 1.5 meters as an annual
- Carmencita Pink: is a green variety and has pink seed pods, grows to 1.5 meters as an annual
- Gibsonii: which has a reddish leaves and veins and bright pink/red seed pods, grows to 1.5 meters as an annual
- Impala: is smaller and has reddish foliage and stems, grows to 1 meter as an annual
- Red Spire: in contrast is a tall variety that grows to 3 meters still with reddish stems and red-bronze leaves
- New Zealand Purple: has deep purple colored leaves and seed pods but they turn more red as they ripen, grows to 1.5 meters as an annual
- Zanzibarensis: is another tall variety that grows to 3 meters and has green leaves with white midribs
Though castor beans are considered the most poisonous common plant yet it has a lot of benefits and the poison can be extracted. But if the beans are ingested there will be delayed symptoms as late as a day and half after ingestion. Yet only if the seeds are chewed or broken it becomes toxic. Swallowing the whole beans or seeds might pass through human system without harm.