Test Your Knowledge - November

A luffa sponge gourd plant with an immature luffa sponge gourd
Immature luffa sponge gourd
Karen Russ, HGIC

Yes!

Peeking from beneath the vine leaves is a young luffa sponge to be. Luffa gourd plants are quite attractive, with large bright yellow flowers and lush leaves. There is no need to hide them in the vegetable garden. They can be used in the ornamental garden to shade an arbor or grown along a fence.

Blooms on a luffa gourd plant
Blooms on a luffa gourd plant
Karen Russ, HGIC

Fruits are elongated, cylindrical and may be more than a foot long. The angled luffa (Luffa acutangula) is more tender. It is often called Chinese okra and can be used as a vegetable. The smooth luffa (L. aegyptiaca), which is without ribs, is much more fibrous and is best for growing as dishcloth or sponge gourds. The pictured plant is a smooth luffa.

Luffas are vigorous growing vines related to melons and squash, and are grown in the same way. Plant seed after all danger of frost is past and the soil is warm, in hills 3 feet apart and rows at least 4 feet apart. Luffas need well-drained soil in a location where they will have full sun and good air circulation. Their preferred growing conditions are the same as those for pumpkins & winter squash. Be sure to allow sufficient time from planting for the fruits to ripen before frost. Fruit for consumption as a vegetable is ready to harvest in about 100 days. Harvest when 6 to 8 inches in length and still tender. Allow another 30 days for the fruit to fully mature if it is to be used as a gourd or as a dishcloth.

For maximum production, trellis the plants. Plants that are trained on a trellis can produce 10 to 20 fruit per plant. Luffas that are in ground contact may rot as they mature. Trellises should be sturdy to support the vigorous growth of the vine.

Mature luffas will begin to turn brown and dry in the fall. Harvest them once they are brown, feel light and dry, and rattle with loose seeds when shaken. Move the luffa gourds inside to finish drying in a warm, well-ventilated area. Do not leave dried gourds out in wet weather for any length of time or the sponges will discolor or rot.

A luffa sponge
A luffa sponge
Karen Russ, HGIC

To process the gourds into sponges, soak them in warm water, from five to twenty minutes, until the skin can be easily stripped off the fibrous inner sponge. When the sponges are free from the skin, seeds and excess pulp, a 10% chlorine bleach solution can be used as the final rinse to lighten the sponges.

Karen Russ
HGIC Horticulture Specialist

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.