|Scientific name:||Ricinus communis L.|
|Common name:||Castor Bean, Castor-Oil Plant, Palma Christi. Gourd|
|Hebrew name:||Qiqayon, Kikajon mazui, קיקיון מצוי|
|Arabic name:||خرّوب, Kharrub|
|Plant Family:||Euphorbiaceae, חלבלוביים|
|Life form:||phanerophyte shrub|
|Stems:||To 5m high, glabrous, glaucous, suffrutescent (with age) or entirely herbaceous, branching, reddish, greenish, or purplish|
|Leaves:||Alternate, dissected, dentate or serrate|
|Flowers:||I long inflorescences, with male flowers at the base and female flowers at the tips; no petals, 3-5 greenish sepals,numerous stamens, superior ovary, 3-celled woth a short style , 3 stigmas|
|Fruits / pods:||Globose capsule 2.5 cm in diameter; covered with soft green or red spines; three segments, each segment containing one large, mottled, smooth seed|
|Flowering Period:||March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November|
|Habitat:||Mediterranean maquis and forest communities, disturbed habitats|
|Distribution:||Mediterranean Woodlands and Shrublands, Semi-steppe shrublands, Shrub-steppes, Deserts and extreme deserts|
Derivation of the botanical name:
Ricinus, Latin name for "a tick"; the seeds of this plant resemble the bodies of ticks, and Linnaeus used this feature as a basis for the genus name of this plant. Communis is Latin for common or general.
Throughout the middle ages the plants were called palma Christi (hand of Christ), as the leaf looks like a hand.
The Castor-Oil Plant is the only member of the genus Ricinus and it has no immediate relatives and is native only to Africa. The seed is also called Castor bean, even though it is not a bean.
The flowers of the Castor-Oil Plant are monoecious, meaning having both the male and female reproductive organs on the same plant and appear in clusters, with the male white blossoms below and the pink female blossoms above.
The flowers are relatively unimposing, lack petals and rely on the wind for pollination. Male flowers senesce shortly after shedding their pollen, while the female flowers develop capsules covered with soft spines. The capsules open at maturity, revealing 3 big seeds that are a mosaic of muted black, gray, brown, yellow-brown, maroon and white colors. It is the seeds of the Castor-Oil plants that have historically, and currently, been of interest.
About 50% of the weight of the seeds is made of Castor Oil (שמן קיק)
Castor oil and its by-products have applications in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes.
In 1909 Castrol (that takes its name from castor oil), originally named the Wakefield Oil Company, began production of a new automotive lubricant named "Castrol" (a contraction of castor oil, from which it was made).
Castor-Oil plant was known to Herodotus (484 BC - ca.425 BC), who calls it Kiki, and states: The Egyptians who live in the marshes use for the anointing of their bodies an oil made from the fruit of the sillicyprium, which is known among them by the name of "kiki." To obtain this they plant the sillicyprium (which grows wild in Greece) along the banks of the rivers and by the sides of the lakes, where it produces fruit in great abundance, but with a very disagreeable smell. This fruit is gathered, and then bruised and pressed, or else boiled down after roasting: the liquid which comes from it is collected and is found to be unctuous, and as well suited as olive-oil for lamps, only that it gives out an unpleasant odour.
The Castor-Oil plant is in the Book of Jonah (Jonah 4:6,7,9,10): "Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort…" The Talmudists make mention of the "oil of kik", which Resh Lakish (3rd century) says is the "kikajon" of Jonah and which is the same that the Arabians call “alcheroa” or “alcherva”.
Strabo (63/64 BCE-c.24CE) also mentions in rural Egypt the use of oil from a plant called kiki. (The Geography of Strabo, Book XVII Chapter 2): …and kiki is a kind of fruit sown in the fields, from which oil is pressed, which is used not only in lamps by almost all the people in the country, but also for anointing the body by the poorer classes and those who do the heavier labour, both men and women.
Theophrastus (370-285 BCE), and Dioscorides (c.40-c.90), in the first century, describe the plant and Pliny (23-79) also speaks of it as a drastic purgative.
H.B.Tristram, Natural History of the Bible (18775): Gourd, Heb. kikayon, occurs only once in Jonah... Whole sheets have been filled with the discussion as to whatr this Gourd was. The dispute is an old one, for when St. Jerome translated it to Ivy, St.Augustine was so offended with the translation that he denounced it as heresy. The most popular rendering has been that which identified the kikayon with the Arabic El keroa, the Castor-oil tree (Ricinus communis). The strongest argument in favour of this interpretation has been the derivation of the word from the Egyptian kiki, and that the Rabbinical name for castor-oil is kiki-oil.