04 October 2010

Castor beans: From "meh" to "oh YEAH"

I've always loved huge, dramatic, castor beans (Ricinus communis), but the past couple times I've grown them, haven't had much luck.
I'm not alone -- Loree over at Danger Garden wrote recently about castor beans not quite living up to what she had planned on.
This year, though, I think I've gotten it figured out.
First, what not to do:
This is the variety 'New Zealand Purple' Great color leaves, but not really making much of a statement.

Check out, however, this one, just a few feet away in the same bed:
This is better. Same site, but this one is from a mix of seeds collected from wild populations in the Dominican Republic I got from Chiltern seeds. So lesson one: Variety matters. If first you don't succeed, try, try another variety.

Lesson two: Site matters even more. Those first two plants are in the front bed, where conditions are dry and slightly shaded thanks to a big silver maple. This is what the same Dominican Republic castor beans look like in the back garden:
That is me. I am 5' 10" (175 cm). The castor beans are pushing ten feet (about 3 meters). Back here, they are getting absolutely full sun and lots of water, and are rewarding me by being freakishly huge and awesome.


Mary C. said...

fair warning - I will now be stealing your line of "freakishly huge and awesome" whenever I need to justify one of my towering plant choices to mom :)

Laurie Brown said...

The trick to the gorgeous New Zealand Purple ricinus is to plant a couple of them together, which I finally figured out this year. They are slow here (zone 4) so I put them in pots on the west side of the house, and with two in a large pot they are fairly impressive. Not like the one that grew across the street from where I grew up- in Los Angeles- but they make a statement!

danger garden said...

"freakishly huge and awesome" indeed, nice job! And you even give your source...thank you! Now for the big question: did you start the seeds indoors or in the ground? And what time of the year?

Joseph said...

Mary C. You are welcome to steal away! Big plants are better plants!

That is a good hint... I love the color of the leaves New Zealand Purple, but they didn't want to grow very big.

I started them all indoors, a few weeks before our last frost in the spring. The seeds take forever to germinate, so next year I think I might start them even earlier.

Nature Assassin said...

I tried to grow Ricinus as a houseplant, and dontcha know, they died. I thought it would work because 1) I grew them carefully from seed and 2) I got the seed from a greenhouse owner, who had a giant one in a pot! But I guess I missed some subtlety about the location. And now I know, it's location location location.