Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ricinus 'Carmencita' - Plants with Panache

Plants with Panache  -  Ricinus communis 'Carmencita' ((under construction))

Plant Family: Euphorbiaceae (spurge)
The tender, shrubby castor bean is a half-hardy annual that often performs like a short-lived evergreen perennial in my Northern California garden, growing from 3 to 15 feet tall and 3 feet wide with broad, deeply divided palmate leaves that can reach 12 to 18 inches across. The only species in the genus, R. communis has foliage and stems that are generally green or an undistinguished gray-green. The choice variety, 'Carmencita,' is strikingly colored, with ornamental foliage a mahogany to red to purple hue. Look for the eye-popping inflorescence, with insignificant flowers that form as summer draws to a close, followed into the fall by brilliantly red spiny seedpods held aloft on long stalks (peduncles). Especially on older plants, main stems become woody and the upper growth noticeably softer.

The profile of the seed is the basis for the botanical name, which means common tick!

Note: All plant parts are poisonous, particularly the seeds, so you won't want to grow castor bean around children.

In a hot, sunny location, castor bean flourishes in humus-rich, well-drained, moisture-retentive soil. Under these conditions, plants may grow treelike in two months' time. Plant seeds directly in the ground when all chance of frost is past. In late spring, before the ground warms, you can grow seeds indoors in peat pots for four to six weeks, then settle the potted seedling in a spot where the showy plant architecture is meant to be a focal point. Young, self-sown plants do not fare well when pulled up and relocated. In general, castor bean roots should not be disturbed.

Listed as an invasive plant in Florida and Hawaii, I find that in my Marin county garden, with frosty nights and soggy winter soil, almost every self-sown seedling is killed off.

If you're going for a tropical look, castor bean is an unbeatable specimen for containers or in the ground. Still, in the first growing year, gardeners should monitor plants to be certain that not too many plants survive the winter and that none escape from the garden. 

If a problem is identified, it's good practice to clip off the entire flowering stalk as soon as the seedpods begin to fade, so there's no possibility of plants overwhelming an area. Or focus on the dramatic foliage and immediately remove any flowering racemes as soon as they emerge.

If you do clip the stalk after seed capsules form, you can harvest the beans to propagate more plants. Once the capsules mature, they begin to split, making it easy to collect the seeds. Store in a clean, dry container and label it clearly.

For a handsome plant marriage, combine castor bean, with its oddly thorny seedpods, and clary sage (Salvia sclarea), a floriferous biennial herb boasting terminal spikes & showy bracts.

I've witnessed surprising differences in the size and longevity of plants in my garden. One towering plant developed a central treelike stem and a sprawling branching habit, living for three years. Another remained compact and never thrived.

Provide good air circulation and a consistent temperature of 60 degrees or warmer to avoid seedling blight when propagating. Plants in the garden are generally trouble free.

Plant society seed exchanges can be a source for castor bean seeds.
Thompson & Morgan at times offers seeds of Ricinus communis 'Carmencita' online at
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  1. I grow them as annuals here. They also can form the basis of a WMD and apparently they are really good at repelling Moles from borders!

  2. Oh dear me, James the hat, have you recovered from your birthday shenanigans?
    Keep quiet about the wmd, please, and do they really repel Moles?

  3. We have folks use it as a shade plant for underplanted ferns or hostas that need protection from the summer sun. I like it as it is a plant that moles and voles steer clear of.

  4. Oh how I love this plant and your gorgeous photo isn't helping!!! I guess next year I better track one down. Hopefully if I put it in one of our stock-tank planters it won't accidentally become a snack for our dog.

  5. I grew Ricinus Carmencita last year. Got to about 2.5 metres high. I composted them in the autumn and now have seedlings appear everytime I disturb the compost. That said they're dead easy to pull and serves to rubberstamp as you say that the 'beans' store well and come true.

  6. Great profile. Keep on going. I wish I could grow it here in Oklahoma, well, I probably could do it as an annual.~~Dee

  7. I do love this plant! Like 'The Hat' said we grow them as annuals here and they make a great focal point in borders or containers.

    I didn't know that they act as a mole repellant, but then again I have no problems with moles either.

    Why is it that so many poisonous plants are so beautiful? My garden could kill a large army! lol


  8. Have the same plant for the first time this year.
    It won't stop growing !
    Makes for a neat accent plant near my arbor. If you want search my blog fot caster bean to see it.
    I cut the seed pods off...not interested in flowers just the foliage...anyway they're poisonous.

  9. Janet,
    Hearing again about castor bean as a deterrent to moles and voles is an enlightening bit of info. Fascinating to learn that it's used in shade in your region, as well. Always interesting to compare notes from one region to another region.
    Your stock tank planters sound like just the ticket to set off this glamour-puss of a plant! Would not be a good thing if the dogs chose to chomp on them.
    Would have loved to see a towering specimen in your lovely garden setting. Great fun to visualize them popping up from the compost pile to greet you.
    I appreciate your positive feedback about this new 'plants with panache' feature on Bay Area Tendrils.
    Let me know if you decide to give castor bean a try as an eye-catching annual. I'll be interested to hear about it from an Oklahoma perspective.
    You've posed a good question about all the wonderfully wicked plants that are such stunners in ornamental gardens. Glad to hear you've no problem with the mighty moles!
    Sounds like your first Ricinus Carmencita is flourishing, and in a position to call attention to the arbor. The plant's foliage certainly gets an extra boost when you remove the seed pods immediately. I'll search your blog to see it in your garden. Thanks!