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Ricinus communis zanzibariensis

Zanzibar Big-Leaf Castor Bean

A truly spectacular tropical perennial, achieving massive sizes in a single growing season before (unfortunately) being killed by Illinois frosts. The marvelous shiny seeds (which, for all their multifarious and multicolored beauty, look like nothing so much as a big fat deer tick) have overwintered here under a light straw mulch, however. Generates lots of curiosity and oohs and ahs at the Great Pumpkin Patch (especially when planted en masse), with star-like bronzey-green finely-serrated leaves up to two feet across and large seed stalks of droopy-spiked dark green seed balls up to 18" long, drying to brown. Bizarre, primitive-looking flowers, favored by flies. Three fat seeds in intricate patterns of brown, white, and mahogany per seed ball. Sometimes in storage the drying seed balls crack open and fling their seeds across the room. Seeds are pressed for castor oil, that favorite of many children a couple of generations ago. Apart from this oil, all parts of the plant are POISONOUS (including the seeds themselves, although they can be handled without harm. Just don't smear the contents of the seeds on your mouth if one of them gets smashed or cut open or something). Apparently Ecuadorian Indians take advantage of the high oil content of the seeds to use them as a kind of candle. Our Zanzibar castor beans have grown up to 8' tall and nearly as wide (several people can easily stand against the trunk inside the ambit of a single plant's leaves), but heights of up to 15' in a single season have been reported. Difficult to bring inside for the winter due to the huge pots that would be required. The largest of the castor beans, from Zanzibar, a very important but very small island off the coast of East Africa. $2.50/10 seeds

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