CASTOR-BEAN. 1?ieinus contruunis, Linn. EupBo• Liacece. Figs. 325-330.
Castor-oil is derived from the seeds or beans of ricinus, a coarse perennial plant (treated as annual in temperate climates), bear ing large alternate palmately lobed leaves, flowers in large terminal clusters, and vari colored seeds in prickly three membered pods or burs. The flowers are unisexual and are gathered on a frequently much elongated axis, the staminate flowers generally being along the lower, the pistillate along the upper part of the inflores cence; flowers without petals; stamens many; pistils three, two-parted, red.
The castor-oil plant belongs to a family that has over four thousand species and is developed most highly in the tropics. It furnishes a great variety of useful products, among which may be named cassava or tapioca, caoutchouc and shellac. In the tropics, the castor-bean grows to a tree thirty to forty feet high, but in temperate regions it is a large annual.
The original home of the castor-oil plant was in Africa or India, but it is now cultivated in all the warmer parts of the world, either for its oil or as an ornamental plant. The highest yield of oil is secured in the tropics, and it is grown only for ornamental purposes in the northern part of the corn-belt, where it would be a failure if grown for oil. It is said, however, that the oil secured from beans grown in the temperate climate of the United States is superior for medicinal purposes to that grown in the tropics.
In the United States the plant is now cultivated commercially in Okla homa, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, Oklahoma producing probably over half the total product. The product of the beans in the United States has fallen off very much in recent years, and we are becoming more and more dependent on the supply from India.
Soil.— The plant prefers a rich, well-drained sandy or clay loam and will not do well on either a stiff clay or a light sand. In this respect it may be said to do well on soil suited to corn or wheat. If virgin soil is not employed, one must apply either manure or com mercial fertilizers to keep up the supply of avail able nitrogen, potash and phosphoric acid.
Planting.—The seeds are planted either in rows four to five feet apart each way, or else in rows about four feet apart and only eighteen inches apart in the row. When the plants are about six inches high they are thinned to a stand of one plant per hill. It may be found desirable to
pour water, nearly boiling hot, over the seeds and allow them to stand, without further heating, for twenty-four hours. This treatment seems to ensure a more uniform and prompt germination. The plants are cultivated level to keep down the weeds, as is corn, until they are about two feet high, from which time they should be able to take care of themselves.
From four to six seeds are planted in a hill, to allow for all accidents. At the greater distances (4 x 5 feet) about one and one-half quarts of seed are required for an acre ; at the lesser distances (4 x 11 feet), about four quarts are required.
Numerous varieties are known, the types most used for ornamental purposes generally being larger than those found among the cultivated oil-yielding plants. The oil-bearing varieties are distinguished by the color, shape and size of the seeds and leaves and the color of the stem. They differ considerably among themselves as to their oil-producing powers, but they cannot be characterized so readily botan ically. The writer seems to have been the first to undertake the systematic breeding of the castor-oil bean for the express purpose of increasing its oil producing quality. This work was started in Okla hcma and was continued there by Shaw and Nichol son. and is now being continued in Alabama by the writer.
If the beans are planted from the middle of April to the first of May, one may expect to see the first ripe fruits in July ; and from this date to the first frost the pods will continue to ripen and the harvest must be continued. The pods are so con structed as to throw the seeds to a considerable distance when the wall of the pod breaks, and hence the necessity of collecting the entire fruit cluster as soon as it turns dark brown. These clusters are cut off with a sharp instrument and hauled away in a tight wagon-box. They are then spread on a tight floor in the barn and left to dry and crack open. When all the seeds are out of the pods they may be swept together and passed through a hand fanning mill and stored in some dry place until sold. Frosted beans should never be mixed with the good ones, as they will reduce the value of the whole lot. If gathered at the proper time and handled as indicated, the labor item may be reduced to a min imum.