Sketches for the Poison Flower Fairies: Ricina, maligned and (usually) innocent

I’ve been a little distracted from the Poison Flower Fairies this week with this and that: etching, paperwork and having taken on a commission (more on that later). However, I’ve two more sketches still to show you, so here, for starters, is another plant with a bad reputation.

The castor oil plant, Ricinus Communis
The castor oil plant, Ricinus Communis

The first of these is a curious creature, not an ancient evil like Monkshood, but rumoured to be assisting terrorists all over the world, sought by several international law-enforcement agencies on several occasions and never caught but once. Toxic, certainly, but dangerous? Guilty as charged? These things are less certain of this slippery and elusive character.

This is the stately Castor Oil Plant, beloved of the planters of municipal gardens, provider of tens of thousands of tonnes of castor oil every year, and, should one wish to bother to process the dregs of the beans after that, also the source of the toxin Ricin.

Seedpod of Ricinus Communis
Seedpod of Ricinus Communis – the beans are in here. I did read somewhere that they are not true beans, though I can’t recal why. They realy are this colour, though – the colour of the photograph has not been enhanced in any way!

Ricin gained its unenviable reputation in its use as the poison used to murder Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov in London in 1978 in an incident apparently, and bizarrely, involving a weaponized umbrella.

Everybody has heard of Ricin and that it’s terribly dangerous. Well, it’s terribly toxic, true, but also, as poisons go, an apparently very difficult poison to actually use – you have actually to put it into someone’s bloodstream, not into, say, their cup of coffee (which would do for my previous two nasties for instance). The medical evidence suggests that ingesting it makes people throw up very quickly and thus generally gets rid of the poison. There is a fine article about Ricin, and its incidents and myths, by John Robertson on the Poison Garden Website here:

I’ve also found this: mention Ricin and several people will not only quote the umbrella incident, but also a very nasty terrorist attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 – that wasn’t Ricin at all but Sarin, a nerve gas. Quite different and not one of my plants, at all! To kill people on an underground with Ricin I imagine you might have to inject them, one, by one. And somebody would be bound to notice you doing that quite soon.

And I’m not joking about this plant being beloved of the planters of municipal gardens, either: once you know what it looks like you find those dark, glossy, spiky leaves poking out of the top of many an arrangement of garden annuals. I last saw it at a wedding a few months ago. It grows up quickly into a handsome plant, but in this climate never lasts the winter. It belongs in more Mediterranean climes, where it grows into a small tree. The thing is, if it’s so dangerous, why are our councils planting it all over the place where the general public can get at it? The answer, of course, is that this culprit is more reputation than substance. So, here we have the Ricin Fairy, caught once and never forgiven!

Ricina, The fairy of the castor oil plant
Ricina, the fairy of the castor oil plant

A weaponized umbrella? well, really, have you ever heard the like since The Avengers? So, Ricina, fairy of the Castor Oil Plant, carries not only her umbrella but has borrowed John Steed’s bowler hat to go with it!


  1. […] The third of the Poison Flower Fairies is under way! For the initial sketch and photos of the castor oil plant itself, and all about this slippery character and its deadly toxin, look back at this post:… […]

  2. […] full week’s painting. Here are the previous posts that show this painting as it develops: Sketch and photos, and a little of the story of this plant… Start of the painting… Adding colour to the painting… And the final stage before […]

  3. Achavaphol

    Are these paintings for sale?

    1. Hi, yes they are, but I’m taking them to Ilminster Arts Centre: this weekend as I’m putting on an exhibition until the end of August, so they won’t be available directly from me while they are there. After that if they’re unsold, they will come back to me again. Does that help? I can find out how they stand on shipping things, – it’s probably not something they’re used to doing!

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