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Monday, November 21, 2011

Castor oil plant-Bad beans

I was on my favorite trail today. I always see or discover something new when I hike it. Today I went along the river and found a big patch of Castor, Ricinus communis. This plant is now a well established invader. Originally from the Ethiopia region of tropical west Africa, this escapee has taken root and can be found in any well drained soil near water courses throughout the west. It came here as a decorative outdoors ornamental. The seeds are the source of castor oil which is used in a lot of different chemical manufacturing process's. For instance, Castrol motor oil contains castor oil. As well as a lot of different lubricants, medicines, etc. Castor "beans" are not beans at all but just big seeds. They also contain the deadliest plant poison known to man:ricin. Ricin was in the news lately. A group of old guys were going to use it to get rid of some government agents. Crazy old coots. Its also been used for chemical warfare. Nasty stuff. An amount equal to a grain of salt will kill an adult. The seeds are beautiful but deadly. A small child eating just one will probably die. An adult will die if they eat two or more. The seeds have been ground up and mixed with bait to kill rodents. And, from what I've read, there aren't any insect pests that bother castor plants or seeds. If your interested in learning more about this amazing plant, go to:

I can see a danger in some unknowing person thinking the pretty seeds would probably be good to eat. It would be their last bowl of beans. Nothing surprises me any more. I once asked a friend in Tucson what he was going to do with a big bag of coral beans and he said he thought he read some where that they were good to eat. Bad idea. They are another very toxic seed. His mother had gathered them years before to make rosary necklaces, a popular use for them. My advice is to research any and every plant you find. Never take a risk. When one or two seeds can kill you, its worth the time and effort. After all, you may find out some incredible things about the amazing plants around us.

A nice big, showy ornamental. At the top of the plant are the red flower panicle's.

That's a seed cluster under the leaves in the middle.

Seed pods just ripening.

Notice the pods are divided into threes. Three seeds to each pod.

A shot of a complete cluster.

Pretty, aren't they? Like the human finger print, no two seeds have the same pattern. Each is unique.

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