Castor Bean
Ricinus communis
Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) Family

Plant is an upright, arbor forming, tropical perennial herb. Height is usually no more than 12 feet. Preferred habitat is semi-tropical areas, old fields, garden edges and abandoned homestead sites. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.

Leaves are palm-like; lobed; dark green or reddish; and up to 12 inches long.

The large flower spike produces fruits contained in a bur that turns red while maturing. The smooth, mottled and poisonous seeds are used for distilling castor oil. In this area it may be cultivated as an ornamental but often escapes to garden edges, old building sites or fields where the stalk is killed by frost.

Castor bean is not only one of the most useful and colorful plants but is one of the
deadliest. According to Dr. S. Lee Timme of Pittsburg State University, “One seed of this plant can kill a child if swallowed.” The plants may range from the smallest of weeds to the tallest of trees and from delicious foods to deadly toxic compounds called ricin.

Traditionally, in New World tropics it has been refined as a liniment and a laxative (castor oil). It has also been used as a purgative and for reducing fevers. The liniment, of course, is used to ease sore and aching muscles. Today, castor oil is used in soaps and paint. Hydrogenated castor oil is also used as lubricants for airplanes and rocket engines. Brazil is the largest producer of castor bean products.

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