Ricinus communis is not indigenous to the Iberian peninsular but has naturalised here, and you consequently you will spy it throughout the region. It is a plant I cannot help photographing as it looks fabulous against the Algarvian blue.
However this is a plant to be extremely wary of. It is poisonous to animals and humans, and is considered one of the most dangerous plants in the world. The pollen if inhaled is highly likely to cause allergic reactions including asthma attacks, the sap causes skin rashes and if that was not enough the seeds contain ricin. Some people can react just by touching the leaves, so keep it away from young children and animals and be cautious when photographing it yourself!
There are male and female flowers, and they appear together on the same plant. The male flowers are more visible and cluster at the base of the spike. The tiny female flowers are located at the top of the spike and they produce the unmissable spiny red seed capsules. As they dry the capsules explode to reveal shiny mottled seeds which resemble dog ticks. Hence the name Ricinus which is latin for tick.
Despite the allergenic nature and toxicity of these plants, they are heavily cultivated for ornamental purposes and also for their seeds. Since it is from the seeds that castor oil comes from. Yup this is the Castor Oil Plant, also known as the ‘Palm of Christ’ because of the healing properties of the oil. I wonder who was the first to discover that the oil from cold-pressed seeds is safe to consume and can be used for healing purposes. And even more intriguing what made them experiment in the first place?!