Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 73

G Holy Moly! It's a Castor Oil Plant
Text and photos by Elizabeth Hunter

Mountain
THE PLANT'S POISONOUS SEEDS DON'T PRECLUDE GROWING
Garden

"SOMETHING OUT OF MAURICE SENDAK'S IMAGINATION."
IN MY SUN-CHALLENGED GARDEN, I
don't have space for large plants.
And yet, I have a weakness for
them, for their exuberant growth. I
admire their assertiveness, the way
they draw the eye. A poke plant
made itself at home in the flower
bed below my deck a year or two
ago. I could take my mattock (and
that's what it would take to get rid
of it) to the root; so far, my response
has been to prune what gets in my
way so we can coexist.
For those who prefer plants that
make a statement for a season
rather than a lifetime, there is an
array of architecturally interesting
annuals to chose among: skyscraping sunflowers, tithonias (Mexican
sunflowers) that grow like Christmas
trees. And then there's the castor oil
plant, a giant whose recommendation comes with a caveat. Do not
plant castor bean seeds if your garden is visited by small children, particularly those of an age whose
exploration of the world involves
popping objects of interest into their
mouths.
Castor beans aren't legumes, so
they're not really beans. Their seed,
though, is bean-sized. What makes
them dangerous is the ricin they
contain, a poison thousands of
times more toxic than cyanide or
rattlesnake venom. No one who
knows what an engorged dog tick
looks like will be tempted to taste a
castor bean; the resemblance is
unmistakable. (The plant's genus
name is Ricinus, Latin for "tick.")
You can plant castor beans without
ill effect; the water-soluble poison is
concentrated in the interior membrane. They are the only members of
their genus but are members of the
large spurge family; they're distantly
related to poinsettias, cassava,
Chinese tallow tree, and crown of

The castor oil plant's giant starfish-shaped leaves, and the plant's size, are
attention-grabbers. Leaves range in color from green to burgundy.

thorns.
"What in the world is that?" I
asked a neighbor the first time I saw
a castor oil plant.
"Mole plant," she said. That common name alludes to the plant's supposed efficacy in keeping the
tunnelers and their ilk at bay.
(Sources I've consulted say the plants
are ineffective for that use, but some
gardeners swear that concoctions
containing oil distilled from the bean

and applied to the soil will help control moles.)
So why grow castor oil plants?
Because they're mind-bogglingly
strange. Thomas Jefferson is said to
have grown a 22-footer, though
most of us have to settle for plants
in the 8-10-foot range. (Castor bean
plants aren't frost-hardy, so we grow
them as annuals; in the tropics
where they're perennial, they can
reach heights of 40 feet.)
JULY/AUGUST 2014 | 73



Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014

Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014
Table of Contents
Print to Mobile
From the Editor
From the Farm
Festivals & Events
The Hike
Creature Feature
Mountain Report
Country Roads
Potomac Highlands Adventures
Get Up Early! Great Farm Vacations
Saving Mabry Mill
Photo Essay: Mountain Skies
Signature Mountain Dishes
Waterfront Living
Mountain Garden
Cabin in the Woods: Canaan Resort
Guest Column
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Table of Contents
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Print to Mobile
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - From the Editor
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - From the Farm
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 9
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Festivals & Events
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 12
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 13
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - The Hike
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Mountain Report
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Country Roads
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 22
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 23
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Potomac Highlands Adventures
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 27
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Get Up Early! Great Farm Vacations
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Saving Mabry Mill
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Photo Essay: Mountain Skies
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 45
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Signature Mountain Dishes
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 48
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 52
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Waterfront Living
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 56
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 58
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 60
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 61
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 62
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 63
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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 67
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 68
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 69
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 70
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 71
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 72
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Mountain Garden
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 74
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 75
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 76
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 77
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Cabin in the Woods: Canaan Resort
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 79
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 80
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - 81
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Guest Column
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2014 - Cover4
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