Your Year Around Flower and Garden Guide

Betty's Castor Beans

Castor Beans: Photo credit-Chris Poynter

Chris Poynter recently sent us two pictures of her mother's very lovely rock garden.

Chris wrote, "My mother, Betty Jestico of Milden Saskatchewan, has grown castor beans in her garden for years, but this year they reached over six feet. I have never seen them this big.

Betty's Castor Beans: Photo credit-Chris Poynter

She collects her own seeds and plants the largest of them each year and they are getting bigger and bigger every year. My mother is standing there to give you an idea of size."

Chris describes her mother's garden saying, "It looks like a park!" and promises to send us more photos soon!


 Castor Bean — Deadly Beauty

Exquisite and intricate designs, of which no two are the same, cover the shiny castor bean seeds. However the seeds of the castor bean are among the most deadly seeds on earth. As well as containing castor oil, the seeds of the castor bean plant also contain ricin, a poison which is extremely toxic and most often fatal to insects, animals, and human garden guests. In fact, nearly every type of animal is susceptible to ricin poisoning. Aphids and other sap-sucking insects will die within 24 hours of eating castor bean foliage and the plant is fatally toxic to pets and livestock such as dogs, rabbits, horses, chickens, ducks, cattle, goats, sheep, and swine as well.

However, the castor bean plant, as well as being a striking addition to your garden, has many beneficial uses. It's the source of castor oil, a "remedy" that has been around for decades. When beans are pressed to release the oil, the water-soluble toxin ricin evaporates and, unless contamination occurs, castor oil is non-toxic and one of nature's purist oils.

Although disagreeable in taste, castor oil has been used as a homeopathic remedy for decades, Ancient Egyptians used castor oil in wicked lamps and today castor oil plays an important role in industry. Castor oil is used in paints, varnishes and used as a protective coating for plastics, metals and even insulation. Additionally, castor oil is used as a high performance oil in racing. and is the primary raw material used in the making of many synthetic fibers such as nylon.

The castor bean (Ricinus communis) is an annual that usually is grown as an ornamental both in outdoor and indoor gardens. In temperate areas like Saskatchewan, where many plants are stunted due to short growing seasons, the vigorously growing castor bean reaches uncommon heights. In southern and tropical areas with long growing seasons, the castor bean plant may reach 15 feet tall!

Large, palmate leaves consist of eight radiating, pointed leaflets with slightly serrated edges and prominent central veins and may span 20 inches in diameter. Many varieties of castor beans sprout green leaves, flowers, and seedpods, but some varieties, like that in Betty's garden, present dramatic color patterns in reds and red-browns. The soft-spined fruits of the castor bean contain the attractively mottled seeds that while deadly, are the most distinctive features of the plant.