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Ricinus

The meaning of «ricinus»

Ricinus communis, the castor bean[1] or castor oil plant,[2] is a species of perennial flowering plant in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. It is the sole species in the monotypic genus, Ricinus, and subtribe, Ricininae. The evolution of castor and its relation to other species are currently being studied using modern genetic tools.[3] It reproduces with a mixed pollination system which favors selfing by geitonogamy but at the same time can be an out-crosser by anemophily (wind pollination) or entomophily (insect pollination).[4]

Its seed is the castor bean, which, despite its name, is not a bean (that is, the seed of many Fabaceae). Castor is indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India, but is widespread throughout tropical regions (and widely grown elsewhere as an ornamental plant).[5]

Castor seed is the source of castor oil, which has a wide variety of uses. The seeds contain between 40% and 60% oil that is rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein. The seed also contains ricin, a water-soluble toxin, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant.

The plant known as "false castor oil plant", Fatsia japonica, is not closely related.

Carl Linnaeus used the name Ricinus because it is a Latin word for tick; the seed is so named because it has markings and a bump at the end that resemble certain ticks. The genus Ricinus[6] also exists in zoology, and designates insects (not ticks) which are parasites of birds; this is possible because the names of animals and plants are governed by different nomenclature codes.[7][8]

The common name "castor oil" probably comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin).[9] It has another common name, palm of Christ, or Palma Christi, that derives from castor oil's reputed ability to heal wounds and cure ailments.

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 shrub that can reach the size of a small tree, around 12 m (39 ft), but it is not cold hardy.

The glossy leaves are 15–45 cm (6–18 in) long, long-stalked, alternate and palmate with five to twelve deep lobes with coarsely toothed segments. In some varieties they start off dark reddish purple or bronze when young, gradually changing to a dark green, sometimes with a reddish tinge, as they mature. The leaves of some other varieties are green practically from the start, whereas in yet others a pigment masks the green color of all the chlorophyll-bearing parts, leaves, stems and young fruit, so that they remain a dramatic purple-to-reddish-brown throughout the life of the plant. Plants with the dark leaves can be found growing next to those with green leaves, so there is most likely only a single gene controlling the production of the pigment in some varieties.[10] The stems and the spherical, spiny seed capsules also vary in pigmentation. The fruit capsules of some varieties are more showy than the flowers.

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