Commercial luffa sponge gourd production

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Luffa sponge products are readily available in the cosmetic and bath section of department stores, discount stores, pharmacies, and specialty shops. The popularity of luffa for personal hygiene products is due to the gentle exfoliating effect the fibers have on the skin. Many environmentally conscious consumers appreciate that luffa products are biodegradable, natural, and a renewable resource. In many other countries luffa is also used to make household cleaning products for scrubbing pots, pans, barbecue grills, tires, and many other surfaces that are not harmed by the abrasive fibers. The tough fibers can also be processed into industrial products such as filters, insulation, and packing materials. Craft shows often exhibit dolls, hats, toys, and other decorative items made from luffa sponges.
Presently, luffa sponges are imported from many countries including China, El Salvador, Korea, Taiwan, Guatemala, Columbia, and Venezuela. Luffa are also grown in home gardens throughout much of the United States. During the early 1990s research in Missouri and North Carolina demonstrated that commercial production of luffa sponge gourds was also feasible in the United States. A rising demand for luffa products, a desire for new, high-value crops, and wholesale prices of .10 to .40 per sponge have stimulated interest in producing large acreages of luffa sponge gourds in the Southeastern United States, particularly in North Carolina and Florida.
Luffa sponges are the fibrous interiors of the fruits of the luffa sponge gourd plant (Luffa aegyptiaca Mill.). A tropical member of the Cucurbitaceae, the luffa sponge gourd plant is an annual vine with tendrils and large, cylindrical fruit that are edible when young. Most luffa cultigens are monoecious; male flowers develop in a cluster, whereas female flowers develop singly or in association with male flowers. The lower nodes of luffa usually bear only male flowers, followed by nodes having both male and female flowers, which are followed by solitary female flowers at the uppermost nodes. The mature, dry fruit consists of a hard shell surrounding a stiff, dense network of cellulose fibers, adapted for support and dispersal of hundreds of flat, smooth black seeds. Luffa is closely related to cucumber and modified cultural practices for trellised cucumber production can be used. One must keep in mind, however, that luffa is a tropical plant which requires a long growing season and warm temperatures.

Jeanine M. Davis
North Carolina State University