The Q&A Archives: Castor Bean Toxicity

Question: I've heard of some degree of toxicity in the castor bean, but exactly how dangerous is it? I've also heard that it may cause a rash by contact, is this true? Finally, how big is this thing going to get... The book I have makes it sound like some kind of garden monster, is this accurate?

Answer: The Castor Bean or Ricinus communis does have a problem! The seeds are poisonous, in fact can be FATAL if ingested! No wonder I hated Castor Oil as a child! Although in all fairness, it should be stated that the poison is not present in the oil!!! However, some seed companies don't sell castor beans for just this reason. Some people also develop an allergic rash from contact with the leaves or seedpods. Wear gloves! So you've heard correctly-there is a dark side to the castor bean plant.

The castor bean grows at a very fast clip (even as an annual), reaching heights of 9 feet and close to 6 feet wide! It has a very small taproot however, so it really does need a sturdy stake. It has bamboo-like, notched stems and fanning, deeply lobed leaves, some more than 2 feet wide. If that qualifies as a monster in your gardening vernacular-so be it!

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