Bad Plants

The Most Dangerous Plant At A Nursery Nearest You

Here's hoping this is not the first you're hearing about the dangers of the beautiful, bold-leaved Ricinus communis, otherwise known as the castor bean plant. Its name might not ring a bell but perhaps you've seen its foliage.

bold, burgundy castor bean plant foliage

Tough to find a plant that looks this good but, to be blunt, GET OVER IT! photo credit: Valter Jacinto hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Valter Jacinto

The problem is those spiky, Sputnuk-like seedpods, or more exactly, the smooth pebbled seeds within. One of these mouth-watering, multi-colored beans is enough to kill a Jack Russell terrier, and I only single out the breed because that's what my friend's dog was. It took two years for the little guy's organs to finally fail, despite everything modern medicine had to pump him with.

scattered shiny castor beans

The beautiful, glossy, and seemingly harmless beans inside a Ricinus seedpod photo credit: Abigail Kelly hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Abigail Kelly

The list of plants that COULD hurt animals (and children, of course) is rather long. One of the better online sources is the ASPCA. But given the overall risks involved with most of them, the castor oil plant is where I draw the line.

Never mind that you can buy it everywhere as a summer annual. That does not make it safe. I'd like to see all the varities of Ricinus communis pulled from the market until such a time as a sterile hybrid comes down the pike.

If you must have this dangerous beauty - believe me, I understand the craving - there is one way to sidestop the danger: rip the plant out before it flowers.



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Ketzel - I couldn't agree more. They are not worth the risk, though they are interesting, to have in my garden. My German Shepherd Dog and Siberia Husky are more important. I've never seed the seeds, but they are beautiful -- very tempting, I would imagine for a child. not good.

Sent by Jenn | 9:35 AM | 7-26-2007

This is the very plant that the deadly poison Ricin is derived from. Hence, the Latin root Ricinus. Yikes, very scary!

Sent by aaron plew | 7:34 PM | 7-26-2007

Ketzel- Feel free to eradicate the plant in YOUR OWN YARD, but your call to pull them from the market is questionable. That would be a slippery slope on which a number of common plants would slide. Check out Cornell's database of toxic plants. You might be surprised at the many others commonly found in gardens.

Sent by Peter Mazin | 8:28 PM | 7-26-2007

Peter - I take your point. My own vehemence seems to throw me on the side of federal control (witness the breadseed poppy) and I don't want to go there. But the idea that ONE SEED is enough to do such irreversible harm terrifies me, not for myself but for the many unsuspecting newbie gardeners with animals and kids. What would you suggest?

Sent by Ketzel | 9:27 AM | 7-27-2007

Perhaps the solution is accurate and OBVIOUS labeling. So that if someone purchases it they at least know what they are getting into. I thought this was a beautiful plant (still do), until I read how dangerous it can be. But I do check into plants I don't know because I have a child and two pups.

Sent by Jenn | 9:54 AM | 7-27-2007

Glad to see your comments.

My cocker spaniel eats anything and could easily gobble up these seeds. He particularly loves tomatoes, peppers, and beans.

I agree with Peter (above) who notes that many plants are toxic. How about the castor bean plant? Does it have a benign form, or is it less poisonous than this one?

It is a gorgeous plant with all the traits I love, texture, shape, and color.

But I wouldn't grow it in my garden, especially near the green beans.

Sent by Julia | 11:05 AM | 7-27-2007

Julia - This is the castor bean plant. Whether the straight species or the red-leaved cultivars ('Carmencita', etc.), it's the same bean. Again, though, if you pull it out before the seed pods form, you're good to go...

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 1:44 PM | 7-27-2007

I was really shocked to see ASPCA's list of plants that are toxic to animals and humans - I have several of them in my yard. Luckily my two cats are quite content rolling around in the catnip and chewing on my lemongrass (who knew?). Perhaps we've just gotten lucky. I think clear accurate labeling is a good solution to this problem. Then everyone, especially people new to gardening who have no idea which plants are toxic, can make well-informed decisions.

Sent by Jesse | 3:54 PM | 7-27-2007

I can't find anywhere else to put this. The Kudsu plant is proving very effective in treating binge drinking. Something in it cuts the desire for alcohol. Now, I wish NPR would do a good story on this. Who knew that the scourge of the South would ultimately be so valuable. Could castor bean oil be used in place of diesel fuel?

Sent by Mom | 4:26 PM | 7-28-2007

Warnings on the plant is a better idea. If you don't have pets or children then there should be no problem.

Sent by Dwight | 9:39 AM | 7-30-2007

One need not rip the plant out to get rid of the seedpods--simply deadhead. Many, many, many plants are poisonous and it would indeed be a slippery slope to start pulling them off the market. Common sense and plant knowledge ought to be enough.

I'm not into banning plants any more than I'm into making people water their lawns.

Sent by elizabeth Licata | 10:34 AM | 8-3-2007

I would strenuously object to a castor bean ban.

Too bad about the terrier, but I can think of several plants whose impact on wild spaces terrifies me far more than a castor bean, but where's the passion for banning ivy or capeweed?

And, as a frequent patron of a few plant nurseries, I dispute the idea that you can "buy it anywhere" as a summer annual. That's simply not true.

Sent by chuck b. | 9:35 PM | 8-3-2007

I agree with the ban on castor bean and all its derivatives for the simple reason that it's INVASIVE!!!! Anyone who has driven around LA would be able to tell you how it has volunteered itself everywhere, along with several other plant species that need to be banned from the gardening trade.

Sent by Rebecca | 11:15 AM | 8-4-2007

read this plant article

Sent by Sparkie | 10:16 AM | 8-12-2007

That plant is a discusting weed in the Ojai Valley of Sothern California

Sent by Christopher Grant | 8:48 PM | 8-14-2007

Banning castor bean would certainly be a slippery slope. I find it more reasonable to increase awareness than attempt to ban toxic plants. Castor has its place, as do poke, monk's hood, yellow jessamine (Gelsemium), jimsonweed (Datura), oleander and many others. The question of degree of toxicity and who has the authority to initiate a ban is rather scary. The list above is a good example of variation in degree of toxicity. Which plants are toxic enough to require a ban and which plants come in under the radar?
The other issue that I understand is invasive plants. I would love to see invasive plants banned from the horticultural trade - but which plants and where? I am new to Georgia, where golden bamboo, Chinese wisteria (another mildy toxic plant), silktree (Albizia) and many others are are invasive plants. So this would be a ban based on geography? But yes, invasive plants certainly are a menace. Don't even get me started on broom in garden centers in Oregon - I mean, are you kidding me?
The issue of invasive plants that are horticulturally available is best addressed by education first, with laws being secondary (but certianly not uncalled for in some cases). Deep and complicated issues here. But again (forgive the reiteration), educating people about plants, especially in the 'developed' world, is paramount.

Sent by kavawaka | 7:44 PM | 9-5-2007

Could anyone give me some advise. My mixed breed 45lb 2yr old dog may have eaten a couple seeds from a castor bean plant. I have grown these plants for years but never did I realize just how dangerous they are. I was growing them in little starter seed packs. The kind you buy that have the dirt in netting and you place the seen inside and water and they will seed. My problem is my dog got hold of the duds that didn't germaniate and was playing with them. She thought they were great fun a type of ball that tears apart. Anyway before I noticed what was going on I was missing 4 little seed pots. I found some of the remains in my yard. Quickly I dosed my dog with Hydrogen Peroxide to induce vomiting, but nothing happened. This was last evening. This afternoon I found the remain of the seen pot in her stool minus the seeds...I don't know what to do. She is acting just fine right now but after reading about the little Jack Russell I have major concerns. Does anyone have any advise. Please help, I love this little dog..."Casey"


Sent by Tricia | 4:55 PM | 5-7-2008

THanks so much! Now I know......

Sent by Alisha1245 | 11:03 PM | 9-4-2008

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