The Q&A Archives: Castor Bean Identification

Question: A friend gave me some beans that almost look like a pinto bean. She has planted these and they grow fast into a beautiful tropical looking tree. The leaves are a very dark red. What are these? Can you tell me what kind of care they require? There are three "beans" in each pod. The pods are very rough.

Answer: It sounds like it might be a castor bean (Ricinus communis). They can grow 6-15 feet in one season. 'Dwarf Red Spire' is a variety with red leaves that grows to about 6 feet. Castor bean seeds are extremely poisonous and it's often recommended that the tree not be planted near children as the seeds are attractive to them. Foliage and seeds can also cause allergic problems. You can prevent seed formation by pinching off the seed capsules. They resemble a bur with a spiky covering. Castor beans are easy to grow. They like full sun and require more water than most desert trees. If this description doesn't fit what you have, I suggest you take a sample of the seed and the leaves to your County Cooperative Extension office for identification. 4210 Campbell Ave, Tucson, 626-5161.

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