In our South Florida sun, I am often asked, “what can I grow in the summer?” Well there are many things we can grow and one of my favorites is the versatile Luffa. Botanically known as Luffa aegyptiaca or Luffa cylidrica, Luffa is a member of the Cucurbit family and shares many of the characteristics of that family. It is believed to have originated in India and its common names include: Smooth loofah, sponge gourd, vegetable sponge, chinese okra, wild squash, dishrag gourd among others. Many people who have seen luffa (loofa) sold in stores assume that it is a sea sponge, but in fact it is a vining plant that we can grow in our own yards throughout the summer months.
Edible: The young leaves, shoots, flower buds and flowers can be eaten after being lightly steamed. The seeds can be roasted as a snack, much like pumpkin seeds. The young fruits can be peeled and prepared as you would zucchini.
Medicinal: It traditional medicine it is reported to have been used internally for rheumatism, backache, internal hemorrhage, chest pains and hemorrhoids and externally, for fevers, boils, and shingles. The exfoliating properties of the sponges remove dead skin and improve blood circulation.
Functional: Mature fruits have a fibrous structure making them the luffa sponge: The dried and peeled sponge can be used in a variety of ways which includes dish and vegetable scrubber, exfoliating shower scrubber, crafts (soap making), and filters. To top it all off, you can machine wash them for continued use, though they do lose their abrasiveness over time.
Aesthetically pleasing: Both the leaf and flower are showy and attract bees and other beneficial pollinators to your yard.
The best time to plant them is in the spring to early summer as they require a good amount of water and sunshine.
Start plants by direct seeding or with transplants.
Planting depth from seed ½ – ¾” .
Germinates in 70 – 80 degrees and take 10-21 days.
Spacing Needs 8-12”
Soil and Nutrition – ph needs 6.0 – 6.8. These plants are heavy feeders requiring fertile soil and adequate moisture, especially during fruit development.
Produce best in full sun though plants can be grown in partial shade where vines can reach out and grow toward sunlight. These plants are cold sensitive.
Important: requires a strong trellis. In the landscape you could grow them on a back fence, wall, arbor, and anywhere that they will have adequate trellis support including oak trees (they love my oaks, but harvesting the fruit becomes more difficult). The fruit needs to be able to hang freely as constrictions will cause deformed fruit. The mature fruits can weigh up to 5lbs.
Additional information for the botanical geek in you.
Luffa is a vigorous climbing herb growing 10-30’, with a square stem and tendrils deriving from the axillary buds which aid it in support. The root system is shallow. The leaves are lobed and can have a silvery patches on topsides. The flowers are yellow and the fruits are green and grow long and narrow before maturing. The plant is monoecious, meaning that it bears both male and female flowers. The male flowers generally come first and are borne in clusters as the female flower is a solitary flower appearing with a small ovary which if pollinated adequately will later become the fruit. The flowers are showy and conspicuous about 2-4” across bearing five petals. Each of flowers are only open and receptive to pollination for one day. Flowering and fruit set begin about 6 weeks after seeding, provided proper nutrition and watering requirements are met. Pollination occurs by bees so do all you can to welcome these insects into your yard.
Where can I get some of these plants?
I have both seeds and transplants available at the Alliance for the Art’s Green Market on Saturday mornings from 9:00a – 1:00p or you can seed order by mail.