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Castor oil plant

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castor oil plant castor oil plant

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The castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) can vary greatly in its growth habit and appearance. The variability has been increased by breeders who have selected a range of cultivars for leaf and flower colours, and for oil production. It is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub that can reach the size of a small tree (around 12 metres). The glossy leaves are 15–45 centimetres long. In some varieties they start off dark reddish purple or bronze when young, gradually changing to a dark green. The fruit is a spiny, greenish (to reddish-purple) capsule containing large, shiny, bean-like, highly poisonous seeds. Castor seeds have a warty appendage called the caruncle, which is a type of elaiosome. The caruncle promotes the dispersal of the seed by ants.

Although castor is indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, today it is widespread throughout tropical regions. In areas with a suitable climate, castor establishes itself easily where it can become an invasive plant and can often be found on wasteland. It is also used extensively as a decorative plant in parks and other public areas, particularly as a "dot plant" in traditional bedding schemes.

The toxicity of raw castor beans is due to the presence of ricin. Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be four to eight seeds, reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare. However, the poison can be extracted from castor by concentrating it with a fairly complicated process similar to that used for extracting cyanide from almonds. If ricin is ingested, symptoms may be delayed by up to 36 hours but commonly begin within 2–4 hours. These include a burning sensation in mouth and throat, abdominal pain, purging and bloody diarrhea. Unless treated, death can be expected to occur within 3–5 days, however in most cases a full recovery can be made. Poisoning occurs when animals, including humans, ingest broken seeds or break the seed by chewing, intact seeds may pass through the digestive tract without releasing the toxin. The toxin provides the castor oil plant with some degree of natural protection from insect pests such as aphids. Commercially available cold-pressed castor oil is not toxic to humans in normal doses, either internal or externally.

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Read 8477 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 December 2019 05:09
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