- by Todd C. Wehner
- Department of Horticultural Science
- North Carolina State University
- Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
Luffa sponge gourd (Luffa aegyptiaca Mill.) is an annual tropical or subtropical vine used for its fruit. The fruit can be eaten at the green or immature stage, but it is more commonly used at the mature stage for the sponge. The skin of the fruit, or gourd, is initially green and turns brown at maturity. As the gourd matures, a dense fibrous network of cellulose forms inside the fruit, and is what is harvested and used as a sponge. The fibrous network provides support for the fruit and serves as a mechanism for seed dispersl. The sponge has a variety of commercial purposes including personal hygiene products, household cleaning products, steam engine filters, craft items, insulation, padding for saddles, and immobilizing agents in biotechnology.
Demand for luffa sponge products in the United States is increasing. Currently, most sponges are imported from tropical and subtropical countries such as Taiwan, Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. Luffa buyers import luffa as raw pieces ranging from 8 to 40 cm in length and 5 to 12 cm in diameter. In 1990, 250 km (10 million inches) of raw luffa were imported, with an estimated wholesale value in excess of a half million dollars.