|DESCRIPTION: It is a perennial, monoecious shrub or small tree up to 6 m high; bark pale brown, papery, peeling; slash exudes a copious watery latex, soapy to tough but soon becoming brittle and brownish when dry; branches glabrous, ascending, stout. Leaves alternate, palmate, petiolate, stipulate; stipules minute; petiole 2-20 cm long, blade 3-5 lobed, 12.5-18 x 11-16 cm, lobes acute or shortly acuminate at the apex, margins entire or undulating, leaf base deeply cordate, glabrous or pubescent only on the veins below, basal veins 7-9, prominent, venation reticulate. Inflorescence a cyme formed terminally on branches and complex, possessing main and co-florescences with paracladia. The plant is monoecious and flowers are unisexual; occasionally hermaphroditic flowers occur; 10 stamens arranged in 2 distinct whorls of 5 each in a single column in the androecium and in close proximity to each other. In the gynaecium, the 3 slender styles are connate to about 2/3 of their length, dilating to a massive bifurcate stigma. Female flowers with sepals up to 18 mm long, persistent; ovary 3-locular, ellipsoid, 1.5-2 mm in diameter, style bifid. Fruit an ellipsoid capsule 2.5-3 cm long, 2-3 cm in diameter, yellow, turning black. Seeds black, 2 per cell, ellipsoid, triangular-convex, 1.5-2 x 1-1.1 cm. Pollination is by insects. The rare hermaphroditic flowers can be self-pollinating. After pollination the trilocular ellipsoid fruit is formed. The exocarp remains fleshy until the seeds are mature. In Thailand, there are 2 flowering peaks, in November and May. In permanently humid equatorial regions, flowering occurs throughout the year. Fruit development needs 90 days from flowering until seeds mature. Shrubs begin to produce at 4-5 months and reach full productivity at about 3 years. The female flowers are 4-5 times more numerous than the male ones. USES: Young leaves may be safely eaten when steamed or stewed. Cooked nuts are eaten in certain regions of Mexico. The seeds yield up to 31-37% of a valuable oil. The seed oil is renewable source of non-conventional bio-diesel. Fruit hulls and seed shells can be used as a fuel. Curcas oil contains a toxin, curcasin. The seed oil as well as seeds, leaves and bark have medicinal properties. It is grown for erosion control, as living fence and as a support for vanilla and other climbers. All plant parts can be used as a green manure. GROWING PERIOD: Perennial. COMMON NAMES: Barbados nut, castor oil, Chinese castor oil, curcas, fig nut, physic nut, pig nut, purging nut, wild oil nut (English). FURTHER INF.: It is best adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions. It occurs in grassland-savannah and thorn forest scrub but is completely lacking from the moist Amazon region. The current distribution shows that introduction has been most successful in drier regions of the tropics. It is very tolerant and thrives under a wide range of edapho-climatic conditions. It is particularly hardy at medium altitude and in humid zones. It is not sensitive to day length. Its strength as a crop comes from its ability to grow on poor, dry sites. However, like any species that being adapted as a crop the yields are correlated with inputs. It is very drought tolerant and can withstand slight frost. It has been widely reported as resistant to pests and diseases; however due to increasing use as a monoculture for bio-diesel this is proving not to be the case. NB.: It is being classified as an invasive species in the Pacific. It is reported as native to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama and exotic to Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Martinique, Mauritania, Montserrat, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Sao Tome et Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United States of America, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands (US), Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.