Saturday, January 15, 2011

Castor Bean

Last fall I took these photos of the Castor Bean Plant at the Heirloom Garden. This neat little "pocket garden" was created and kept up by community volunteers. They plant a variety of old time heirloom plants and flowers. I just think these plants are so neat.
Castor Bean plants are impressive. Their huge, 5 –11 lobed, star-shaped leaves can reach 3 feet in length. The plant’s coarse texture makes a bold statement in a garden, and contrasts nicely with fine textured companions. They look attractive in groups, or as individual specimen plants. There are numerous varieties of ornamental Castor Beans. Many have been selected for bright red or purple foliage, instead of typically green leaves. Leaf shapes and plant size distinguish other varieties. I am not sure what variety this plant might be, but it is really pretty.
Castor Bean flowers do not have petals and rely on the wind for pollination. The flowers are separate sexed flowers on the same plant. Flowers are found in clusters, with the male blossoms below and the female blossoms above. Male flowers senesce shortly after shedding their pollen, while the female flowers develop ½ -1 inch long capsules covered with soft spines. The capsules open at maturity, revealing 3 smooth, attractive, ½ inch long seeds that come in black, gray, brown, yellow-brown, maroon and white colors. Each seed seems to have its own unique color pattern. It is the seeds of Castor Bean plants that have been of interest. They contain a valuable oil, but also some extremely toxic compounds.
Castor oil makes up about 50% of the weight of the seeds. Most of the world’s production of castor oil goes into lubricants for fine machinery and auto engines, plastics, paints, inks, soaps, linoleum, dyes, leather preservatives, waxes, polishes, cosmetics, candles, and crayons. Hundreds of medicinal uses have been claimed over the years, with purgative, laxative, and general cure all properties cited most frequently. Ingesting large quantities of the oil can result in poisoning, and many medical professionals feel the oil is a dangerous ingredient in a variety of folk remedies.

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