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CASTOR OIL PLANT Its Culture in South Florida Where It Is Seldom Injured by Cold Should Be Quite Profitable By Prof. P. J. Wester. The castor oil plant (Rieinus com nmnis) is probably indigenous ot Abys sinia, Kordofan and, perhaps, Arabia, from where it has spread to most tropical countries and become naturalized. It Mas early cultivated in India, and, ac cording to Herodotus, Pliny, etc., grown extensively by the ancient Egpytians, in the tombs of which the seed has been found. The rapidity with which the plant grows and the similarity between the Hebrew and Egyptian names for it have caused the suggestion that the castor oil plant was the Gourd of Jonah. The castor oil plant belongs to the large family Euphorbiaceae and is thus related to many important economic plants, chiefly tropical, cultivated for many different products obtained from different parts of the plant: Of these are the otaheite gooseberry (Cicca disti cha) grown for its fruit; the cassava (Manihot utilissima) for starch produc tion from its large subterranean tubers; Hevea braziliensis and Manihot glasiovit both yield rubber; from the seeds of the wood oil nut trees (Aleurites spp.) valu able oils are obtained. Some of our showiest ornamentals are likewise related plants; for instance, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima); Acalypha spp. and Phyllanthus nivosus, rosea pictus. In the tropics the castor oil plant is a perennial but becomes in the tropical zone an annual grown for the oil ob tained from the seed, or as an -orna mental. The plant is cultivated to a greater or less extent in China, Africa, Italy, Cen tral and South America and the West Indies. It has also been grown commer cially in some parts of the United States, as in Kansas and Oklahoma, but is most extensively cultivated in the East In dies, where, it is stated that 330,000 acres were devoted to its culture in 1890. The plant is chiefly cultivated for the oil derived from the beans, from which, at the same time, a valuable by-product in the form of castor oil pomace is ob tained that is used in the manufacture of commercial fertilizers, chiefly valu able for its nitrogen content, analyzing 5V 2 to 7 per cent ammonia and 2 to 3 per cent phosphoric acid. The stems are said to make good paper pulp. The seeds yield on the average from 46 to 53 per cent of oil, with occasional records of 60 per cent and, aside from its employment in medicine, is said to be unexcelled in dressing leather. It is also used for lubricating and illuminat ing purposes. The latitudes where the cultivated plant is treated as an annual, the seed is naturally planted more closely, as the plants do not grow so large. In India they are planted in rows three feet apart, but in South Florida, where the plants, if cultivated on a large scale, would be grown as a perennial, the distance at which to plant should be greater. In Hawaii the seed are planted 15 to 20 feet apart. Their soil, however, is more fertile than that in South Florida, and THE FLORIDA AGRICULTURIST. 10 by 15 feet would perhaps be the more desirable distance to use here. Three or four seeds should be dropped in each hill to insure a good stand; where more than one seed germinates, the plants should be destroyed when they are about a foot tall, so as to leave one plant, the most thrifty, to each hill. At the same time the remaining plant should be topped to induce branching aud dwarf the plant in order to facilitate harvesting the beans. Until the plants are large enough to shade the ground well they should be cul tivated to keep down weeds and the growth encouraged by applications of commercial fertilizer or stable manure. As far as the writer is aware, fertilizer experiments with this crop in Florida have not been made. It is very proba ble that certain fertilizers would prove more favorable to the development of the plant and production of beans than oth ers, and those who are investing capital in the production of castor beans would unquestionably find it advantageous to set aside part of the field for fertilizer testing purposes at the outset. It would seem that once established the plants would require only a small amount of fertilizer per year for /,he production of seed, if the plant is treated as a peren nial and the stems not removed from the field, as the leaves arid stems would de cay on the spot and the nutritive ele ments be again taken up into the system of the plant. The beans mature in about ten months from planting the seed and should be gathered as soon as the pods turn gray ish or brownish. Threshing out the seed is not necessary, as the pods split open and throw out the seed when the pods dry up. After picking, the pods may be placed on large drying trays, the bot toms of which are made of galvanized wire netting the meshing of which is just close enough to permit the seed to fall through in troughs beneath as the pods dry, leaving the large hulls, after which the beans are easily cleaned from smaller impurities. The yield per acre is stated to be in the United States twelve bushels; in Madras, India, 400 to 500 pounds, and in Honolulu, 2,500 to 3,000 pounds. One hundred pounds of dry pods yield about 55 pounds of beans. The dry pods less the beans are said to be more than equal in fertilizing value the same weight of wood ashes worth SIO.OO per ton. There is considerable variation in the oil content, productivity and habit of the plants, and prospective growers should, if possible, at the outset ascer tain the oil content, by analysis, of some of the seed of the varieties they are go ing to plant, and as far as possible plant seed secured from productive plants only. The harvesting from dwarf and bushy plants will be found less expensive as compared with the tall varieties, and this feature should be kept in mind also. Subtropical Laboratory, Miami, Fla., January 19, 1900. Fruit Culture in Porto Rico. The fruit industry of Porto Rico, which in its present stage, is an important and promising one, and which will undoubt edly undergo considerable development with the provision of better facilities of transportation, etc., formed the subject of a paper read at the first annual meet ing of the Cuban Horticultural Society, held in May of last year. Fruit lands in Porto Rico, it is stated, are yearly increasing in value. Land which, a few years ago, could be bought at $lO and S2O per acre now costs SSO and SIOO. Pineapples do so well that soils suitable for this crop command very high prices. Much of the E land best suited for citrus fruit growth, however, has not yet been planted, as the districts in which it exists have not yet been opened up by roads. The citrus fruit districts of Porto Rico are almost entirely confined to the north side of the island, and comprise an area of 7,000 or 8,000 acres. About 70 per cent of this is planted with oranges, 25 per cent with grapefruit, and 5 per cent with lemons. The oranges grown include a consider able number of Florida varieties. The early and the late kinds are expected to give more profitable results than varie ties ripening in mid-season. The Wash ington Havel orange is cultivated, and appears to do much better in Porto Rico than in Florida. Some of the native va rieties of oranges, however, are reported to do better than any imported kinds. Great numbers of orange trees grow wild in the mountainous district. The fruit is stated to be of excellent quality, and would ship well if properly handled. It grows, however, too far from the railway or from passable roads to be a source of profit to any of the inhabitants. It is estimated that 100,000 boxes of or anges are annually lost in Porto Rico on this account. Artificial manures are used on a fair ly considerable scale in the cultivation of both' oranges and pineapples. Sweet Potato Investigations. Extensive investigations dealing with the sweet potato crop are being under taken by the United States Department of Agriculture. Experiments are in prog ress at several centers, and include a study of the kinds most suitable for the several potato-growing districts. Re search is being made in regard to meth ods of growing and their comparative cost, and methods of harvesting, storing, packing and shippin gthe crop. The ques tion of storage, it is stated, is receiving special attention, in order to determine the best means of curing, the most suit able temperatures to be maintained in the storage house, and the amount of shrink age that takes place under those condi tions. Attention is also being given to the uses and possibilities of sweet pota toes as food for stock, as weU as to the dessication and canning of the product for human consumption. Arrangements are about perfected for the Dade County Fair, which is to be held at Miami from March 9th to 13th. The indications are that it will be the most successful fair yet held in that county, and they have given some very fine ones in past years.