Castor oil plant

Castor oil plant

name = Castor oil plant

image_width = 240px
image_caption = Castor bean in disturbed area
regnum = Plantae
phylum = Magnoliophyta
classis = Magnoliopsida
ordo = Malpighiales
familia = Euphorbiaceae
subfamilia = Acalyphoideae
tribus = Acalypheae
subtribus = Ricininae
genus = "Ricinus"
species = "R. communis"
binomial = "Ricinus communis"
binomial_authority = L.

The castor oil plant, "Ricinus communis", is a plant species of the Euphorbiaceae (the evolution of this plant family is relatively unexplored [] ) the sole member of the genus "Ricinus" and of the subtribe Ricininae. Its seed is the castor bean which, despite its name, is not a true bean.

Castor seed is the source of castor oil, which has a wide variety of uses. The seeds contain between 40% and 60% oil that is rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein. The seed coat contains ricin, a poison, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant.

The toxicity of raw castor beans is well-known, and reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare. Children could conceivably die from as few as three beans; adults may require eight or more. As an example of the rarity of castor bean poisoning, in recent years there have only been two cases reported in all of England, and both the victims recovered uneventfully. [Wedin, G.P., Neal, J.S., Everson, G.W., and Krenzelok, E.P. 1986. "Castor bean poisoning." Am J Emerg Med. 4(3): 259-61. ( [ abstract] )]

Even so small a dose of ricin as 1/25 000 000 of the body weight may cause toxic symptoms when injected. []

Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC. Herodotus and other Greek travelers have noted the use of castor seed oil for lighting, body ointments, and improving hair growth and texture. Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes. The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical treatise believed to date from 1552 BC. Translated in 1872, it describes castor oil as a purgative.

Global castor seed production is around 1 million tons per year. Leading producing areas are India (with over 60% of the global yield), China and Brazil. There are several active breeding programmes.

Another plant species, Fatsia Japonica, looks similar to the castor oil plant and is known as the "false castor oil plant".


Castor oil plant can reach a height of 2–3 m in a year (if sown early, under glass, and kept at a temperature of around 20°Celsius/68°Fahreheit until planted out [Phillips, Roger & Rix, Martyn (1999) "Annuals and Biennials" p106, Macmillan, London, ISBN 0 333 74889 1] ).

The glossy leaves are 15–45 cm long, long-stalked, alternate and palmate with 5–12 deep lobes with coarsely toothed segments. Their colour varies from dark green, sometimes with a reddish tinge, to dark reddish purple or bronze.

The stems and the spherical, spiny seed pods also vary in pigmentation. The pods are more showy than the flowers (the male flowers are yellowish-green with prominent creamy stamens and are carried in ovoid spikes up to 15 cm long; the female flowers, borne at the tips of the spikes, have prominent red stigmas). [ Brickell, Christopher (ed) "The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants" (1996) pp884–5, Dorling Kindersley, London, ISBN 0 7513 0303 8]

Terminating stems are panicle-like inflorescences of green monoecious flowers, the stalked female flowers above the male flowers below, both without petals.

The fruit is a spiny, greenish capsule with large, oval, shiny, bean-like, highly poisonous seeds with variable brownish motling.


The name "Ricinus" is a Latin word for tick; the seed is so named because it has markings and a bump at the end which resemble certain ticks.The common name "castor oil" likely comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver ("castor" in Latin). It has another common name, Palm of Christ, or "Palma Christi", that derives from castor oil's ability to heal wounds and cure ailments.

Habitat and growth

Although castor is indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean region, Eastern Africa, and India, today it is widespread throughout tropical regions. [Phillips, Roger & Rix, Martyn (1999) "Annuals and Biennials" p106, Macmillan, London, ISBN 0 333 74889 1] Castor establishes itself easily as an apparently "native" plant and can often be found on wasteland. It is widely grown as a crop in Ethiopia. It is also used extensively as a decorative plant in parks and other public areas, particularly as a "dot plant" in traditional bedding schemes. Of the red and white variety, the red is seen as an ornamental plant, the white is used medicinally.Although monotypic, the castor oil plant can vary greatly in its growth habit and appearance.

It is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub which can reach the size of a small tree (around 12 m), but it is not hardy. However it grows well outside, at least in Southern England, and the leaves do not appear to suffer frost damage in sheltered spots, where it remains evergreen. In areas prone to frost it is usually shorter and grown as if it were an annual.

Selections have been made by breeders for use as ornamental plants: 'Gibsonii' has red-tinged leaves with reddish veins and pinkish-green seed pods; 'Carmencita Pink' is similar, with pinkish-red stems; 'Carmencita Bright Red' has red stems, dark purplish leaves and red seed pods; all grow to around 1.5 m tall as annuals. [Phillips, Roger & Rix, Martyn (1999) "Annuals and Biennials" p106, Macmillan, London, ISBN 0 333 74889 1] 'Impala' is compact (only 1.2 m tall) with reddish foliage and stems, brightest on the young shoots; 'Red Spire' is tall (2–3 m) with red stems and bronze foliage; 'Zanzibarensis' is also tall (2–3 m), with large, mid-green leaves (50 cm long) with white midribs. (Heights refer to plants grown as annuals.) [ Brickell, Christopher (ed) "The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants" (1996) p885, Dorling Kindersley, London, ISBN 0 7513 0303 8]

Plant-animal interactions

"Ricinus communis" is the host plant of the Common Castor butterfly ("Ariadne merione") and the Castor Semi-Looper moth ("Achaea janata"). It is also used as a food plant by the larvae of some other species of Lepidoptera, including "Hypercompe hambletoni" and the Nutmeg ("Discestra trifolii").

Among birds, it is a favourite food of the Tambourine Dove ("Turtur tympanistria").

Castor beans are very toxic.


Usage in ethnobotanyThe use of castor seed oil in India has been documented since 2000 BC for use in lamps and in local medicine as a laxative, purgative, and cathartic in Unani, Ayurvedic and other ethnomedical systems. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine considers castor oil the king of medicinals for curing arthritic diseases.

Castor seed and its oil have also been used in China for centuries, mainly prescribed in local medicine for internal use or use in dressings.

The oil has undecylenic acid, a powerful chemical for dermal fungus.

The oil is known to have been used as an instrument of coercion by the Fascist militia (Camicie Nere) under the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Dissidents and regime opponents were forced to ingest the oil in large amounts, triggering severe diarrhoea and dehydration, which could ultimately cause death. This punishment method was originally thought of by Gabriele D'Annunzio, the Italian poet and Fascist supporter, during the First World War.

It was used in rituals of sacrifice to please the gods in early civilizations.

In Brazil, castor plants are abundant. The "fruits" are used by children as slingshot balls. Mamonas, as the fruits are called, serve perfectly as projectiles for slingshots since they have the right weight, size and hardness. Mamona oil is now being used to produce biodiesel in poor rural areas of the country.


India is world leader in Castor Beans production followed by China and then Brazil.


Common Names

Brazil: Carrapateiro, mamona

Ethiopia: Gulo
Dhivehi: Aamanaka, އާމަނަކަ

India: Hindi - AranDi, Marathi - Erand, Telugu - Aavadam, Malayalam - Aavanakku
Iran: Karchak, کرچک

Mexico: Higuerilla
Nicaragua: Higuera or higueria

Portugal: Figueira do Diabo
Puerto Rico: Higuereta


Further reading

* ISBN 0-89672-614-2

ee also

* Castor oil
* ricin
* poison

External links

* [ "Ricinus communis L."] at Purdue University
* [ "Castor beans"] at Purdue University
* [ "Ricinus communis" (castor bean)] at Cornell University

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • CASTOR-OIL PLANT — (Heb. קִיקָיוֹן, kikayon), the kikayon in the shade of which the prophet Jonah sat outside Nineveh after his prophecy concerning that city s destruction had not been fulfilled. He was glad of the shade, but God prepared a worm that attacked the… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • castor-oil plant — [kas′tər oil′] n. a tropical plant (Ricinus communis) of the spurge family, with seeds (castor beans) from which castor oil is extracted …   English World dictionary

  • Castor-oil plant — Castor oil Cas tor oil (k[a^]s t[ e]r oil ). A mild cathartic oil, expressed or extracted from the seeds of the {Ricinus communis}, or {Palma Christi}. When fresh the oil is inodorous and insipid. [1913 Webster] {Castor oil plant}. Same as {Palma …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • castor-oil plant — n a tropical Old World herb of the genus Ricinus (R. communis) widely grown as an ornamental or for its oil rich castor beans that are a source of castor oil …   Medical dictionary

  • castor-oil plant — /kas teuhr oyl , kah steuhr / a tall plant, Ricinus communis, of the spurge family, cultivated for its ornamental foliage and having poisonous seeds that are the source of castor oil. Also called castor bean. [1835 45] * * * Large plant (Ricinus… …   Universalium

  • castor-oil-plant — paprastasis ricinmedis statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Karpažolinių šeimos aliejinis, dekoratyvinis, prieskoninis, vaistinis nuodingas augalas (Ricinus communis), kilęs iš Afrikos. Iš jo gaminami maisto priedai (kvėpikliai), gaunami… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • castor oil plant — ricinmedis statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Karpažolinių (Euphorbiaceae) šeimos augalų gentis (Ricinus). atitikmenys: lot. Ricinus angl. castor bean plant; castor oil plant vok. Rizinus; Wunderbaum rus. клещевина lenk. kleszczowina; rącznik …   Dekoratyvinių augalų vardynas

  • castor-oil plant — Palma Christi Pal ma Chris ti [L., palm of Christ.] (Bot.) A plant ({Ricinus communis}) with ornamental peltate and palmately cleft foliage, growing as a woody perennial in the tropics, and cultivated as an herbaceous annual in temperate regions; …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • castor oil plant — japoninė fatsija statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Aralijinių šeimos dekoratyvinis augalas (Fatsia japonica), paplitęs rytų Azijoje. atitikmenys: lot. Fatsia japonica angl. castor oil plant; fatsi; glossy leaf paperplant; Japanese fatsia;… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • castor-oil plant — cas′tor oil′ plant pln a tall plant, Ricinus communis, of the spurge family, cultivated for its ornamental foliage and poisonous seeds that yield castor oil Also called castor bean 2) • Etymology: 1835–45 …   From formal English to slang