The Castor Bean Plant

In my first summer at the Secret Garden, one of the gardeners grew a stately ornamental called a “Castor Bean” plant.  The Latin name for this plant is “Ricinus communis” and because these lovely species so enhanced the Secret Garden, I would sometimes refer to that place as “The Communis Garden.”  Suddenly, I saw Castor Bean plants everywhere, including the landscape installation at the Museums of Old York’s 2011 Annual Decorator Show House.

I may have seen them in my sleep; I’m not sure.

The problem with Ricinus communis is that the seeds and the seed pods are poisonous.  This is because they contain the toxin, ricin.  With this in mind, I encouraged my brother to plant my package of Castor Bean seeds as a poisonous shield to prevent woodchucks from eating up his garden.

Things started out well.  The seeds sprouted and grew to 6 inches.  We had a magical hope in the power of the Castor Bean to protect my brother’s future harvest.  Then one dark night, the woodchuck ate the Castor Bean plants.

The next morning, Chuck E. Wood was back at it, sunning himself next to my brother’s tool shed and eyeing his next meal.  The Castor Bean plant may have caused a little indigestion, but it didn’t stop him from mowing down a row of Swiss chard that afternoon.  He started on the spinach the next morning.

Nothing could stop him until he’d devoured the entire garden.

We’re working on next year’s plan for Mr. Chuck E. Wood; it won’t be Castor Bean plants.

(Ricinus Communis in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, 2012)

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