Botanical Survey of India | Flora of India

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Ricinus communis L., Sp. Pl. 1007. 1753; Hook.f., Fl. Brit. India 5: 457. 1887.

Beng.: Bherenda, Redi, Rerri; Eng.: Castor-oil plant, Castor-bean plant, Palma-Christi; Guj.: Divelo, Erado; Hindi: Andi, Arendi, Arendu, Eldi, Jaronda, Randi, Rehri; Kan.: Haralu; Mal.: Amanakku, Avanakku, Chittavanakku; Mar.: Arand, Nironda, Rand; Nep.: Reri, Orer; Sans.: Deerghadanda, Erandam, Gandharya, Hasta, Kumbhi, Panjangulum, Thambugam, Tharuna, Vardhamanam; Tam.: Aimugi, Amanakku, Sittamanakku; Tel.: Amadum, Amudam, Amudapu, Amanamuchattu, Eramundapu.

Shrubs or small trees, monoecious, 1 - 6 m tall, glabrous with glaucous young parts. Leaves alternate to opposite, narrowly peltate at base, suborbicular in outline, 10 - 60 x 10 - 70 cm, palmately divided beyond the middle into 5 - 10 oblong-ovate to lanceolate, acute to acuminate lobes with coarse teeth along margins, thinly coriaceous, pale glaucous green beneath, often suffused with purplish red, minutely puberulous on both sides, bearing many glandular cells on epidermis; petioles (7 -) 10 - 40 cm long, bearing at apex 1 - 3 scattered nectaries on upper side adjoining the blade; stipules ovate-lanceolate, 1 – 3.5 cm long, early caducous. Inflorescences terminal or leaf-opposed, paniculate, 8 - 25 (- 40) cm long, with 3 - 25-flowered male cymes below and 1 - 7-flowered female cymes above; peduncles ca 10 cm long, later becoming elongated up to 50 cm in length. Male flowers: pedicels 8 - 15 mm long; calyx spathaceous, splitting into 3 - 5 lobes; lobes ovate-lanceolate, 5 - 9 mm long, yellowish green to pale yellow; petals and disc absent; stamens numerous (up to 1000), crowded and connate into ca 8 mm long cluster of stipitate phalanges; anthers globose to ovoid. Female flowers: 8 – 9 mm across, green; pedicels 2.5 - 4 mm long, elongating in fruit; calyx spathaceous, split into 5 - 7 unequal lobes; lobes lanceolate, 5 - 6 mm long, green to reddish, caducous; ovary globose, ca 4 mm across, densely echinate with soft spines, each ending in a translucent stinging hair at apex; styles 3, entire or bifid; stigmas 4 - 6 mm long, papillose-plumose on inner surface. Fruits schizocarpic, trilobed, ellipsoid to subglobose, 1.2 - 2.5 x 1.5 - 2 cm, reddish brown to blackish purple, marked with various shades of white, grey or brown, covered with 3 - 6 mm long brown or dark brown soft spines; seeds ellipsoid, to ovoid, 9 - 14 x 5 - 6 mm, shiny dark brown and white or mottled grey and brown along margins, with a large caruncle.

Fl. & Fr. Jan. - Dec.

Distrib. India: Cultivated near villages, often as an escape in wastelands with rich soil, usually in plains but often ascending to 2000 m altitude. Throughout the country.

Pantropical, probably native of N. Africa.

Uses. The seeds yield ‘Castor Oil’, which is used for lamps, soap making, as lubricant and sometimes as purgative. It is used in rheumatism, as a hair tonic, for asthma and certain eye ailments. A paste of the seeds cures rheumatic swellings. In Assam, the plants are used as food plants for silk worms. The oil is useful for manufacture of plastic and synthetic fibres. Castor seeds contain an effective fat-splitting enzyme and commercially used for catalyzing hydrolysis of fats and glycerides. In Uttar Pradesh, an aqueous extract of castor seeds finds use as clarifying agent in preparation of gur from sugar cane juice. Castor cakes, the residue after extraction of oil, are used as manure but are unsuitable for feeding to cattle, as it contains toxic constituents. The seeds have a large number of industrial uses. Tribals of Uttarakhand use leaves to cure arthritis and diabetes and the seed oil for spondylitis and joint pain (Arya, Indian J. Trad. Knowledge 1: 84. 2002). Leaves are rubbed on joints to relieve pain and young leaves mashed and taken as purgative (Jain, Econ. Bot. 19: 245. 1965). Castor oil seasoned with paste of Eclipta alba and Sassaurea lappa is used for healthy and luxuriant hair and cools brain.

The green variety of this species is an effective cure for various types of jaundice. Equal quantity of tender leaves of this variety and cumin seeds are ground together into a paste and one gooseberry-size globule is taken early in the morning in empty stomach for three days. In the alterative, the tender leaves of green variety and the whole plant with roots of Phyllanthus amarus are ground together into a paste and one lemon-sized globule is taken early in the morning in empty stomach for three days, avoiding fatty foods.

Notes. There are two distinct varieties in India. The most common one occurring throughout India is a large shrub or small tree up to 6 m tall with young stems, branches, petioles, nerves on leaves, inflorescence peduncles and pedicels being purplish green. The other (not so common, confined to Kerala and Tamil Nadu) is a small or medium-sized shrub up to 2 m tall, with the entire plant being completely green. The green variety often grows along with the purple variety in wet humid places. Even though they occur side by side, they do not seem to hybridize.

Morphologically this species is highly variable, probably due to centuries of cultivation and escapes from cultivation. Seeds of this species were known from graves of Egyptian Pharaohs dating back to 4000 BC. Various workers, based on characteristics of capsule, seeds and inflorescences, often divide this species into a number of varieties and forms. Pax & K. Hoffmann (Engler, Pflanzner. IV.147.xi: 199. 1919) enumerated 17 varieties, mainly based on foliage colour, and mostly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Various workers have reported hundreds of more forms and cultivars. However, intermediate forms interconnect them all and they do hybridize freely when brought together. Therefore, it is not practical to consider them as distinct infra-specific taxa.

Chromosome numbers: n = 10 (Narain & Singh, J. Hered. 59: 287 - 288. 1968; 2n = 20 (Hans, Taxon 22: 591 - 636. 1973).

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