Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Castor Bean Plant

Until recently, I had only seen photos in gardening books and seed catalogs, but the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) is a stunningly beautiful plant.  See photos here.

Soon (next summer) I hope to have photos of my own, since my mom gave me two young plants which I have happily planted into my garden, one at the front of the house, and one waaay up at the back, near the shed.  Some gardening friends of hers had bought some of these beautiful plants (the beautiful reddish "Sanguineus" variety), but then got scared by the description that they will grow to 15'.  I am not sure in one Vancouver BC weather what to expect for growth, and winter survival, for that matter.  I have only very recently spotted this plant (I don't believe I've ever seen it in "real life" before), growing beside a nearby police station.  Funny thing, I thought, with this plant's reputation for use in chemical warfare and terrorism.

The toxicity of the bean (due to the protein ricin) has discouraged me in the past, but realistically, my kids are old enough now, and I can't imagine anyone picking and eating the beans (kids nowadays have plenty of food, and aren't looking for such culinary adventures).  Except hopefully the squirrels, which are cute little buggers but are becoming a bit too much - this year they picked all my apples (except the few unripe ones I picked first), asian pears, pears, and many of my plums.  In past years, they have eaten all my daffodils and many other bulbs (I don't even think I'm going to try planting bulbs this year).

As for winter hardiness, I am beginning to worry...  I read that it is perennial in zones 8 - 11, but elsewhere I read that it likely will not survive the winter in zones 8 & 9, but will propagate by reseeding.  Mine don't have seeds developed yet, and the winter is already setting in - there was snow on the local mountains yesterday morning.  So I am not sure if I should hedge my bet by digging one of them up, and trying to overwinter it in the basement.Vancouver is usually pretty mild, but the predictions are for a severe winter this year (to make up for last year, when snow had to be trucked in to the local Cypress Mountain for some of the Olympic events).  Does anyone have any advice? 


thepoisongarden said...

I'd be very surprised indeed if your plants survive the winter.

I'm in the north-east of England and my Ricinus communis still look fine. But, I know from previous experience, as soon as we get a proper frost, the plants will be killed. Overnight the leaves will curl up and droop.

Nicholas Klacsanszky said...

It is interesting how people can grow a native African plant in the Northwest. It must take some serious gardening skills to maintain it, especially in the winter. I enjoy the beans that it produces, but haven't gotten to the planting part. I am a beginner gardener - I read the Ebook Gardening Made Easy to get a handle on gardening, and it's coming along alright. I keep it pretty simple - tomatoes are my keepsake.

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