Name/Scientific Name: Luffa / L. Aegyptiaca
Native/ Adapted: Luffa is a tropical plant well adapted to this area
Height: 12-20 inch fruits on vines
Spread: Runners and climbers
Light: Full sun and will tolerate some shade
Evergreen/Deciduous: This is an annual plant and dies after 1 full season
Seasonal Interest: Flowers in early summer, young fruit used like squash or cucumbers
Color/Features: Yellow Hibiscus-like flowers/mature fruits makes a sponge
Water: Likes water in a well-drained soil
Maintenance: Little required
Wildlife: The yellow blooms can be a temptation for some for some wildlife.
Deer Resistant: Yes
Comments/ Experience: If you have ever purchased a “loofa” sponge for your bath, you might have imagined that it was made from something from the sea or some other mysterious material. To the contrary, it is made from a fascinating plant that you may grow in your own yard. It is a tropical gourd, belonging to the cucumber family. It is also called the “towel gourd’ or the ‘vegetable sponge”. The accepted spelling is Luffa.
Luffa will grow in many different sizes and shapes, similar to cucumbers, squash, and gourds. It is best to trellis Luffa in order to support the fruits. When the fruits are young, it may be cooked and eaten like squash. There is a sweet variety that may be sliced and eaten like cucumbers. At maturity, the inside of Luffa is a mass of spongy tissue that can be harvested and processed for various household uses.
Luffa seeds are available from most seed companies. As with growing squash, a soil with humus and well-rotted manure is essential. Usually, I plant Luffa seeds the same time I plant cucumbers, after all danger of frost has past. Luffa used for sponges are not mature and ready to harvest until just before the last frost. It is a long growing season, but well worth the wait.
When Luffa turns a light brown, it is ready to harvest for sponges. Another way to know when Luffa is ready to pick is when you can hear the seed rattle inside the Luffa when you shake it. Refrain from letting the skin becoming too dry, as it makes it difficult to peel the Luffa. In case some slip by you and do dry out too much, just try soaking them in a container of water for a few hours. After peeling the skin from the Luffa, shake all the seeds out and save for the next year’s planting.
Take the Luffa you want to use as bath sponges and place them in a mild bleach solution for only ONE minute. This softens the Luffa. Try to make sure most of the seeds are out of the sponge. Next, machine wash on a gentle, cold water cycle with little to no detergent. NEVER put Luffa in the dryer, as it will shrivel to nothing.
Luffa is a great gift. Just add some bath or shower items to the gift bag. Most recipients are pleasantly surprised at this useful gift that you grew just for them.
The Luffa you would like to use as a dish rag or scouring pad should not be bleached. It is not necessary to wash these. Just cut with scissors into the sizes and shapes you would like to have in the kitchen.
Luffa always goes back to its original shape after being wet.