Victorian gardeners treasured castor oil plant.
The ricinus, or castor oil plant, can offer both a showy color and tall structure for the garden.
It was a popular Victorian plant for both the outdoor vase and garden beds.
Tom Carter writes in his book The Victorian Garden “[William] Robinson lists as indispensable to the subtropical enthusiast ricinus (castor-oil plant), canna, polymnia, colocasia, uhdea, wigandia, ferdinanda, yucca, draceana, and palms.”
In his catalogs and garden magazine Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often recommended ricinus.
Vick wrote in his magazine in 1878, “This class of plants [sub-tropical] is becoming very popular,and are used in what is known as sub-tropical gardening, that is, gardens furnished with plants of a tropical, or sub-tropical, origin, such as Century Plant, Agaves, Cannas, Caladiums, Ricinus, Yucca, Wigandia, Tritoma, Pampas Grass, etc.”
Vick kept up with the latest fashion and trends in gardening for his customers. He wanted them to know and appreciate flowers from various parts of the world like the exotic sub-tropicals.
One customer wrote to Vick in 1868 about her ricinus seeds. She said, “Many thanks for the fine Ricinus seed I got from you last Spring. I have two of the finest specimens of the giant species, ‘Giganteus’, one sixteen feet four inches high, and one thirteen feet.”
Ricinus fit the Victorian flair for bold and beautiful in the garden. It can grow several feet high with leaves that can measure three feet or more.
You can still find ricinus at garden centers in the spring and early summer.
Who knows? Maybe this old-fashioned Victorian annual might fit the bill for that center spot in a container or that flower bed where you need just that look.