Monday, November 26, 2012

Luffa aegyptiaca

Luffa aegyptiaca is an annual climbing vine that produces a fibrous, sponge-like fruit commonly used in many bath and body products. These natural plant-fiber sponges are used in the bath or shower to gently exfoliate skin, in the kitchen to scrub pots, pans and non-stick cookware, or outdoors to wash cars, trucks and boats.

Luffa requires a long growing season. If planted early enough in the year, a few fruits will form in the spring that ripen by fall. During the long hot days of summer, pollination is inhibited, but resumes with the shorter days of autumn. If you have a 10-12 month growing season, you'll get a bumper crop of luffas at the end of the year.
The showy yellow male flowers open one at a time on an elongating upright stem.
 Female flowers are solitary with a pre-formed fruit. Individual blooms are about 3-4 inches in diameter.
Pollinated flowers result in a rapidly growing fruit that eventually reaches 15-18 inches in length. There are other cultivars of luffa; they may be longer and thin, short and thick, or with ridges on the skin. Young fruits that are up to 6 inches in length may be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. In China, the flowers, leaves, and young shoots are also eaten.
As older fruits reach maturity, the skin changes from dark green to yellow-green. Finally it turns brown and dry. At this point it's ready to harvest for the fibrous sponges. Harvest as soon as the skin turns brown. Clip the fruit off to avoid damaging the vine because more fruits are still forming. When the skin is dry and brittle, crack it open and peel off the outside.
Inside you'll find a beautiful luffa that may be any shade of brown to nearly white. Shake out the seeds and wash the fiber thoroughly to remove plant sap. Dry it in the sun and your luffa is ready to use. Leave it whole for use in the bath, or cut it into conveniently sized pieces for other uses.

Luffa aegyptiaca is native to tropical Africa and Asia. The vine grows more than 30 feet long, so give it plenty of vertical space. They'll quickly climb a trellis or fence and cover adjacent trees or shrubs. Grow in full sun for best flower and fruit production. Here's a photo of one of mine covering a sabal palm.


Sunita Mohan said...

We grow this primarily as a vegetable here in India. You've got to harvest it when it is very tender, though, or it gets all fibrous and horrible.

sharon said...

what zones again?

Grower Jim said...

Sharon, the consensus seems to be that USDA Zone 7 or higher is required to mature the fruits before frost. You may be able to stretch that a little by starting seeds inside in 4" pots to be planted out after the last frost date in your area.