Garden Photo of the Day

Nicotine & castor oil

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Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Call me crazy, but that’s what comes to mind when I see this beautiful combo from the display gardens at Blithewold Mansion & Gardens in Bristol, Rhode Island. The pink flowering tobacco (Nicotiana mutabilis, annual) is closely related to the cigarette-type, Nicotiana tabacum, while the castor bean (Ricinus communis ‘Pretty Purple’, annual), is, indeed, the source for castor oil, and for the poison ricin, for that matter. In fact, you should think twice about growing castor beans, no matter how lovely the burgundy varieties are, if you have small children or pets that like to snack in the garden, since this plant is strongly poisonous. But oh, how nice these two look together! While Kris Green and Gail Read, the gardeners in charge of the display gardens at Blithewold, would like to take credit for this design, they say that the wind is what placed the tobacco seeds next to the castor bean, and the rest is history.

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View Comments


  1. GEide 07/30/2010

    Yikes, ricin poison! Thanks for interesting fact-oids!

  2. grizmom3 07/30/2010

    I have always grown Nicotiana because the hummingbirds love the trumpet-shaped blooms. I have grown Castor Beans in the past, but have never seen one with purple leaves. How large do they grow? The ones I grew reached up to 10' or more and were huge. I no longer have room to grow them and sure do miss 'em. Great photo and thanks for sharing.


  3. arboretum 07/30/2010

    hmmmm, bold w/ delicate. and i alw like white or light pink w/ burgundy.

  4. sheilaschultz 07/31/2010

    I planted my first castor bean in a large container this year... the leaves remind me of a Japanese Maple on steriods & the seed pods have a crazy color & texture. I'll keep the babes away! The Nicotiana w/this combo adds a softness. Serendipity at work!

  5. Kris_at_Blithewold 08/03/2010

    This castor bean - 'Pretty Purple' (from Select Seeds) was supposed to only be 4' tall! Two out of three of ours are a good 7' by now but we have managed to keep one of the plants shorter by pinching it back - and it has branched beautifully. And we always take off the flowers so that it won't produce seeds - most of the plant's poison is found in the seeds (and they, unlike the plant, almost look tasty.)

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