Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Toxicology Tuesday, August 7

Thanks to KGMom for her e-mail about the following plant, and for allowing me to use her photograph. You know the question, is it ...

Toxic or Not?

Answer: Toxic. Most definitely toxic. This is the Castor Bean plant, Ricinus communis. It is often grown as an ornamental, and the decorative seeds, called castor beans, are the most toxic part of the plant.

The toxic principal, ricin, is considered one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances known. Ricin is found in all parts of the plant, but is concentrated in the beans, which are used in necklaces and other jewelry. If swallowed whole, they may pass out without causing harm, but when broken open (i.e., chewed) just one bean can be fatal to a small or medium sized dog. Children can also be poisoned by eating castor beans.

Signs include oral irritation, burning of the mouth and throat, increase in thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney failure, and convulsions. Death may occur in 36 hours if emergency treatment is not started immediately.

Cornell’s web site says “Never let the plant go to seed,” but my advice would be “Never grow it in the first place.” There are a lot of plants out there that are a lot prettier (in my opinion) without the potential for harm.

Photo credits:
Castor Bean plant by KGMom
Single castor bean by MrBrownThumb, Flickr
Bowl of castor beans by Flavio Cruvinel Brandao, Flickr


KGMom said...

I not only "loaned" KatDoc the photo--I also PROMISED not to answer. So, here I sit biting my knuckles (actually I am typing!) but it is so hard not to answer.
Remember the kids in class who said--ooo oooo--I know, I know. Well, that would be me along about now!

Lynne said...

Castor bean- ricin- VERY TOXIC.

nina said...

And apparently we're not just talking about upset tummies. I found a site that had links for its relevance to: children, animals and murder!

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful plant! I'm glad I don't have any of these toxic plants in my yard for critters to eat! Kathy

NatureWoman said...

Ohhh, very toxic to everyone!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Castor bean, yeahhh, subway poison.
I've been telling everyone about macadamia nuts. Looove those T.Tuesdays.

KGMom said...

Breathlessly awaiting Katdoc's diagnosis.

There is a back story to that photo. This plant proudly sits in my neighbor's yard. He grew one last year too.

P.S. We have many dogs (and small children) in the neighborhood.

KatDoc said...

Good on you all for knowing about Castor beans! One thing Donna asked me in her e-mail, and which I couldn't find a conclusive answer to, is would the beans be toxic to wild birds who might eat them?

Purdue's vet site said "Toxic to all animals" without specifically mentioning birds. That site did indicate that horses would be more severely affected, since they can't vomit, but didn't say anything about rabbits, which also cannot vomit.

Because the ricin is released when the bean is chewed, and since birds don't have teeth, I would hope that it might pass out whole, and not cause a problem, but I suppose if the bean was scarified by the grit in a bird's gizzard, it might be toxic.

Maybe the Science Chimp can answer that one.


KGMom said...

Weighing in for a final time on this one--I have been most concerned about this plant. I told my neighbor (very nicely, of course) that the seeds are dangerous. He demurred.

Last year, when his daughter's school had show-and-tell, she took a starter castor bean plant along. The school told them on no uncertain terms to NEVER again do that. But he still seems bemused more than concerned. The weird thing is he is the honest-to-goodness most neighborly helpful guy. He just doesn't think the plant is a danger--why would any kid pick a bean off that plant and eat it?

Julie Zickefoose said...

Science Chimp weighs in: When birds start picking the overmature beans off the plants in my garden, I'll worry about whether these are toxic to birds. I just don't see any attraction in them for wild birds. They'd have to hull them first, anyway, and I can't think of any bird that would do that for a seed that large and unmanageable.
It does seem odd that someone would want to have the beans around, and grow the plant. There are lots of other plants with big cool leaves that aren't so deadly. They're an old-fashioned thing and perhaps Donna's neighbor has fond childhood memories of them from a grandparent's garden.