Except if You’re a Gardener


(photo: NC State)

The New York Times reports that a man was found unconscious in a Las Vegas hotel room with a powder that may well be ricin. Castor bean seeds (which contain the poison ricin) were also on the scene.

And in spite of this information, the reporter allows this statement from the Las Vegas police to go unchallenged:

Captain Lombardo said ricin had extremely limited legitimate uses.
“Ricin has no medical uses other then cancer research,” he said. “An
individual citizen, other than being involved in cancer research or
cancer prevention, would not have any legal means or proper means for
having that.”

Uh…no legal or proper means, other than buying the seeds or plants at the garden center and planting them in your garden?  Castor is a beautiful plant–spooky and deadly, but beautiful. I’ve seen it in gardens all over the country.  It grows in my own garden.

It would be one thing if he was referring to some pharmaceutical-grade powder, but the seeds were found on the scene.  This could be the work of a diabolical gardener. Any individual citizen would have legal and proper means to get crushed-up castor bean seeds…if they garden.


  1. Several years in a temperate gardening climate might make me find Castor Bean an attractive and desirable plant. After 20 years in the tropics of Hawaii it is also possible that it has been permanently labled a giant obnoxious weed. When I saw it prominantly displayed at the Biltmore’s gardens it still looked like a big giant weed.

    Currently I am low on diabolical intentions and there are certain to be more attractive alternatives if the need should arise.

  2. Maybe that hunched over spinster on the other side of the neigborhood might be up to something, because it is a staple in her summer garden. I have to go, I have a phone call to make to my Homeland Security block captain.

  3. lol… Kevorkian garden – i love it!… I have 4 different types of castor bean seeds that i got in trades… a few were crushed up from the post office… good thing i threw them out, don’t wanna get arrested lol…

  4. Layanee, are you serious about that Kevorkian garden? That is hilarious! Datura, Texas mountain laurel, Carolina jessamine, daffodils, what else? Well, there’s so many plants with deadly parts to include, you might have trouble restraining yourself. With a little skull-and-crossbones garden sign, it’d be perfect.

  5. Layaneel, don’t forget lots of Aconite!

    I LOVE the look of Ricinus plants, especially the dark-leaved ones with red or pink flowers. I haven’t gotten around to trying them yet, though. My mom used to grow the plant and then worry that my brother and I would try to eat it when we were very young. Fortunately, my brother and I had no interest in eating non-food items.

    Something is strange in the reporting (and not just NYT and the AP feed). Now it’s been published that a copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook, open to the page on Ricin, several firearms and several pets (dogs and cats, all alive but one) were found in the room. Since the pets were without food or water for a week, it’s not too surprising one was dead, but who knows?

    But back to the Ricin: it was described as being in “plastic vials”, which would be the most accurate description of biotech-grade ricin. There has been no indication of whether there were other chemicals and/or equipment found in the room. The kind of equipment needed to extract biotech-grade ricin is pretty distinctive, and I’m sure that at least one investigator would have inadvertently leaked enough clues in the press for most biotech workers to know what was going on.

    For all of you who think it should be fairly simple to extract biotech-grade (or weapons-grade) ricin: think again. It’s easier to make good quality crystal meth, and takes fewer specialized skills.

    Not that I’ve done either (nor do I advocate doing either), but I have done protein extractions (ricin is a protein) and I’ve done chemical synthesis reactions. The purifications and reduction reaction to make meth would be more straightforward.

  6. Ketzel Levine was recommending banning this plant because someone’s dog had died. I love it though, and am planting it this year. It is a staple at our local botanical garden and many gardeners use it around here.

  7. Your logic is a little faulty here, I think. There is nothing wrong with the police statement, nor anything for the Times to have challenged . Ricin and castor beans are not the same thing. Ricin is processed from castor beans yes, but just because you may plant castor beans in your garden doesn’t mean you have a bunch of deadly ricin growing in your yard.

    Growing castor bean plants in your garden isn’t illegal, but making Ricin is, and they were correct to say that it has very few legitimate uses. And while castor beans are poisonous, they aren’t nearly as lethal as the ricin made from them.

    The police statement implies that there was some illegal activity going on here. Based on the fact they found vials of ricin as well as castor beans, it suggests that someone was more interested in producing a deadly poison, rather than in growing plants in their garden.

  8. I am with grouchylisa; I have heard that making ricin is far more complicated than just grinding castor bean seeds. There is something a bit off about this whole story.
    My fear is that this story will activate Big Brother gov’t to overreact and start banning home gardeners from growing this plant, which, in the form of Carmencita, I also find beautiful. Maybe we shouldn’t tell them about the real name of the “breadseed poppy”….. (:

  9. There has been a noticeable increase in castor bean plants in gardens around my St Paul Mn neighborhood. The gardeners are for the most part Hmong, refugees from Laos.

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