|Written by Dena Bolton|
Intro:Â You might think that the loofah you use in the shower or bath to soften your heels comes from sponges that are harvested from the sea, but you would be wrong. Loofah is actually a plant. The â€śspongeâ€ť is the seedpod, which forms a dense mass of cellulose fiber that is what you use in your shower. Loofah is an annual and considered a tropical plant, believing to have originated in Asia and the Middle East.Â The fruit is eaten as a vegetable in Asia and Africa, as well.Â (The fruit looks like a cucumber.) Normally loofah is hardy only to Zone 10; however, people in more northern climates can grow loofah, as well.Â In fact, there is a place near my hometown in Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6) that has been growing its own loofah since the 1990s.Â (More northern climates will just have a shorter growing period.)
Step 1:Â Choose a site in full sun. Also, choose a site where your loofah can have strong support, such as a chain-link fence, sturdy trellis, or pergola. Loofah is a large vining plant, reaching a size of 20-30 feet.
Step 2:Â Plant your loofah in a humus-rich soil with good drainage.
Step 3:Â Plant your loofah seeds directly into the ground in the spring after all danger of frost has passed or start the seeds indoors. (Loofah, as mentioned in the â€śIntroduction,â€ť is an annual and, therefore, is most often grown from seed.) In warmer areas, such as along the Gulf Coast of the United States, plant loofah seeds directly into the ground immediately after the last frost in the very early spring. In colder climates, start seeds indoors during the winter. It usually takes 1-2 weeks for the loofah seeds to germinate. Their growth is a bit sluggish at first until the roots are well established. After that, loofahs grow rapidly. Loofah has a long growing and blooming period â€“ usually from early spring through early fall.
Step 4:Â When you first plant your loofah seeds, be sure to keep them evenly moist at all times but do not over-water. Once your loofah is well established and growing rapidly, it will not need to be watered as often; however, give additional water if you notice the leaves drooping.
â€˘Loofah is also sometimes known as â€śChinese okra,â€ť and the fruits can be eaten. Pick when young and tender to avoid the bitter taste often associated with the fruit.
â€˘There are different varieties of loofah available, with some not growing to be as large as the loofah commonly grown for use as a sponge.