A Fun Idea for Your Tropical Backyard Landscape – Castor Beans

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I discovered this one early on in my Backyard Resort journey.  Castor Bean looks great in a tropical backyard setting or tropical pool landscapeCastor Bean is absolutely beautiful, very easy to grow, and guaranteed to bring an exotic, almost jungle feel to just about any area of your tropical backyard or pool landscape.  It has huge, palmate leaves that can be over 2 feet across, with great color and shape.

This plant is just fun. You grow it from seed at the begining of the season.  I already hear the grumbles from you impatient types but, fear not, it grows incredibly fast,  faster than you can imagine if you baby it just a little. Believe it or not,  mine consistently grow well over 12 feet tall every year.  Feel better? 

Castors are very versatile.  You can grow it as a specimen plant, or in groups to create a spectacular tropical screen. I’ve found that castor beans  combine very well with bananas, cannas, gingers, and other tropical looking plants.


Palm, Castor bean, Yucca in tropical backyard landscape
Palm, Castor bean, Yucca in tropical backyard landscape

I’ve used at least 3 different varieties: green, grey, and red.   The greens get the biggest by far.  They grey’s have a really cool stalk color.  But for max effect, I suggest you  look to the bronze/red varieties such as Carmencita as they provide an even more dramatic effect with their deep bronze foliage.

Castor Beans are annuals in all but the warmest zones, but are almost guaranteed to reseed themselves, maybe more than you want!  Plant the seeds in the spring, in well-drained soil and in full sun.  To get the most out of castor beans in the shortest amount of time, baby them a little by enriching the soil with compost at planting time and providing plenty of water early in the growing cycle. This is a tough plant and, once established, requires very little maintenance.  The only real downside once established is that high winds can sometimes push them over a bit.  When that happens, I just straighten and brace them, and they go right back to being happy.  Very tough cookies.  Get the Backyard Resorts Ebook

Seeds or readily available on ebay or through online retailers.  Trust me, you’ll only need to buy seeds once as you can collect seeds from your own plants once you have some established, and there will be far more than you’ll ever need!

Fair warning, all parts, and especially the seeds, of this plant are poisonous if ingested. I’d leave Castor Beans out of your Backyard Resort mix if you have young children.

7 Replies to “A Fun Idea for Your Tropical Backyard Landscape – Castor Beans”

  1. I read your articles a year or so back (while I was in Iraq). When I returned to US, I did dig out most of what was here except for 2 mexican palms and planted some more palms (pindo & Meditrerreanan and windmill). Lost one of the Mexican palms in the winter of 2009 and replaced it with a 2 windmill palms. Lost the other Mexcian palm this year (even though it was wrapped in burlap and I had Christmas tree lights (the big ones) wrapped around it. Actually, the pindo palms did not make it either (although they were not wrapped). I guess 2 winters in a row was too much .

    But I do remember your booklet talking about castor beans. I ordered some seeds last year and planted a couple in pots in February. It took them a long time to emerge, but I set them out about about 2 weeks ago. They are one of the red varieties. One is growing fast, the other (probably in too much shade) is growing, but more slowly. I think they will look great.

  2. Hey Ed. I do remember chatting with you over email. You can see from a prior post I did and the comments that followed that your experience with the fan palms is all too common. They are dead all over the area. These last two winters were just too much for them; one extraordinarily wet (snow) and cold, the other just bitterly cold for long periods. My fan palms had been in the ground for 12+ years and I think I lost them all. This is a chance we take. The Windmills all came through fine, but they even showed a little winter burn. First time ever for them. Sabals took damage but look to be coming back around the area.

    You’ll have fun with the castor beans. Just wait until we get a little heat, like today. They thrive on heat and will really take off. I’ve had the green ones go to near 20 feet in a season, with stalks as big as your arm.

    I haven’t had a lot of luck transplanting them, and prefer to just put the seeds directly in the ground. They don’t seem to like being moved/transplanted, and it takes them a while to recover.

  3. I understand and feel for Eric Harris, I had some beautiful Fan Palms around the pool & I lost all except one. I thought I had lost it too but yesterday I went out & there was a little green comeing from the middle
    I was so glad to see it made it. I live in Burleson which is a right out of Dallas & we had 2 really cold hard winters this last 2 years. My backyard plants really did suffer, I lost all my banana trees & queen palms also.
    This year I am going to put as many as I can in big pots. I try to have a very colorful back yard without the plants because of such hard weather we have here. You can go to my website to see my backyard. Just go to havfuninlife dot com. I think you will be suprised. Thanks

  4. Faye, don’t give up! These last two winters were unusual to say the least and we all took big hits with palms/tropicals. I choose not to fret too much over it. It just goes with the territory. With all the joy I’ve gotten out of my little backyard resort over the years, it’s well worth it.

    Go back and read some of the other articles I’ve written on the tropicalyard.com blog. There are a couple about protecting bananas. I almost always get mine through, no problem.

    Love your site. Very fun.



  5. We just bought a new home with a pool and I’m already planning my tropical paradise next spring. I read this post and fell in love with the Castor Bean. I’m deeply saddened to discover how poisonous they are! We have small children and dogs so the castor plant is not for us.

    Do you recommend anything similar without the risk? I was thinking large elephant ears, but what else??? I keep picturing those beautiful castor bean plants!!

  6. Jennifer, many many plants that you wouldn’t think of as being poisonous are. The leaves of tomato plants are toxic! I’m with you on the Castor Bean plant though. I would not plant it if you have small children.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a great substitute for a plant that looks so tropical and can grow to nearly 20ft tall from seed in a single season. Elephant Ears are great for shade but, at least here in Dallas, cannot be planted in full sun unless you want to stand by them with a water hose 24X 7. For sun, banana plants are an obvious choice. I’ve also had a lot of fun with Papaya grown from seed (see this article). I also like candlestick tree and even saw it in a home depot this season. Finally, think about plumeria and other show stoppers in big pots (see this article).

    Hope this helps. Be sure to do your own research as to toxicity of any plant you decide to use.

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