Luffa aegyptiaca (loofah)
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Luffa aegyptiaca P. Miller
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Cucumis lineatus Bosc
- Cucurbita luffa hort.
- Luffa cathu-picinna Ser.
- Luffa clavata Roxb.
- Luffa cylindrica (L.) M. J. Roem.
- Luffa insularum A. Gray
- Luffa leiocarpa F. Muell.
- Luffa leucosperma M. J. Roem.
- Luffa pentandra Roxb.
- Luffa petola Ser.
- Luffa racemosa Roxb.
- Luffa scabra Schumach.
- Luffa striata Schrad.
- Luffa veitchii Naud.
- Momordica cylindrica L.
- Momordica luffa L.
- Momordica operculata Blanco
- Turia cordata J. F. Gmel.
International Common Names
- English: climbing okra; dish-cloth gourd; dishrag gourd; luffa; rag gourd; smooth loofah; sponge gourd; sponge luffa; vegetable sponge
- Spanish: esponja vegetal; estropajo; lufa; pashte (Mexico); paste; pepino para paste
- French: courge cylindrique de chine; courge torchon; eponge végétale; luffa d'Egypte; pétole; torchon
- Arabic: lûf
- Chinese: shui gua; shui kwa; si gua; tian luo gua; tian si gua
- Portuguese: bucha
Local Common Names
- Germany: Ågyptische Schwammkürbis; Schwammgurke; Schwammkuerbis; Schwammkürbis
- India: dhundal; jhinga; meethi torai; mozhuka peerkankai; turai
- Indonesia: belustru; blustru
- Malaysia: ketola manis; petola buntal; petola manis
- Nepal: ghiu toriya; palo
- Netherlands: komkommer, spons-
- Sri Lanka: vatakolu
- Sudan: emes
- Thailand: boap hom; buap hom; buap klom
- LUFAE (Luffa aegyptiaca)
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Violales
- Family: Cucurbitaceae
- Genus: Luffa
- Species: Luffa aegyptiaca
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page The botanical name Luffa aegyptica is owed to Phillip Miller who first saw the gourd growing in Egyptian gardens in the seventeenth century.
DescriptionTop of page Sponge gourd is a vigorous-growing vine comprising five angled stems with tendrils on the axils of leaves to facilitate climbing. The leaves are broadly ovate to reniform, dark green with silvery patches on the topside, 5-7 deep lobes, dentate, scabrous, 6-25 x 8-27 cm, apex acute, base cordate, petiole hispid and 5-10 cm long (Purseglove, 1976). The flowers are monoecious, produced on leaf axils, and consist of five petals of a conspicuous yellow colour, 5-10 cm across, united below in a bell-shaped corolla, open in early morning. The staminate flowers are produced in racemes of 4-20 and contain five free stamens. The pistillate flowers are borne either singly on a separate node or in association with staminate inflorescence. The lower nodes usually bear only staminate inflorescence, middle nodes both staminate inflorescence and pistillate flowers, and terminal nodes only pistillate flowers (Omini and Hossain, 1987). The female flowers have three stigmas and a smooth, cylindrical ovary. The fruits are green with longitudinal marked lines, up to 61 cm long and 7.6 cm in diameter, shaped like a large cylindrical pepo (berry). The endocarp is the edible portion of the fruit that later becomes fibrous and spongy. The seeds are borne with parietal placentation. The dry, mature fruit is composed of an outer hard shell and an inner dense network of cellulose fibre (sponge) containing hundreds of flat, smooth, black seeds (Shah et al., 1980). The fruit is essentially an inferior berry, even though it is called a pepo because of its hard, tough rind when mature (Seshadri, 1999).
DistributionTop of page L. aegyptica is agreed to be of tropical origin but the geographical region of origin is not certain. The crop has been under cultivation since ancient times. It is widely believed to have been domesticated in tropical Asia, possibly India, and reached China about 600 AD (Purseglove, 1976) and Egypt in the Middle Ages (Mansfeld, 2001). It has been cultivated in the Middle East, India, China, Japan and Malaysia for centuries (Porterfield, 1955). The word luffa or 'loofah' is of Arabic origin and the sponge characteristic of the crop has been described in old Egyptian writings (Seshadri, 1999). Sponge gourd is now found in cultivation or as an escape in all tropical regions of the world. It was an important crop used for industrial filters until World War II and Japan cultivated the best crop for this purpose.The main commercial production areas today are China, Korea, India, Japan, Central America and Brazil.
Cultivation of sponge gourd has been reported in the following countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, French Polynesia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, India, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Myanmar, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Suriname, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, UK, USA, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
Biology and EcologyTop of page Sponge gourd has an annual growth habit. It is propagated by seeds obtained from ripe fruits. The plant is a vine with tendrils bearing monoecious flowers. The pistillate flowers are pollinated by insects. Although sponge gourd is considered a cross pollinated crop, the absence of self-incompatibility permits natural self pollination taking place within the same plant. As insects do not differentiate flowers from the same or different plants, 20-40% self pollination can be expected. To ensure the visit of pollinating insects, the flowers are showy in colour, large in size and staminate flowers are produced in greater abundance than pistillate ones (Seshadri, 1999). Smooth luffa produces fruits that are grouped as pepo. Each fruit contains hundreds of flat, smooth, black seeds.
Sponge gourd tolerates a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. It is adapted to tropical and subtropical climates and requires warm summer temperatures and a long, frost-free growing season for maximum yield. The average temperature should be around 30-35°C. It grows best at altitudes below 500 m. Sponge gourd seeds require warm soil to germinate. The growing season can be extended by using transplants grown under glass earlier in the season. Well distributed rainfall during the growing season is needed for optimum crop growth and both growth and yield are substantially reduced under water stress. Soil moisture of at least 10-15% above the permanent wilting point is required to maintain growth (Seshadri, 1999). Excessive rainfall during the flowering and fruiting period can damage yield and lower fruit quality (Tindall, 1983). Sponge gourd will grow on many soil types but well-drained sandy loams are preferred. It is sensitive to acid soils; the optimal soil pH is 6.0-6.8.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
L. aegyptiaca is spread by seed, which is dispersed by birds and rodents and also planted by humans.
ImpactTop of page
From Englberger (2009):
'This fast-growing vine, with its smothering growth, can be very aggressive. The plant is often found on fences and overgrows native vegetation. It is usually found in open, disturbed areas like roadsides.'
UsesTop of page Sponge gourd fruit is consumed as a vegetable when young in the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. It can be eaten as a curried vegetable, used in soup, fried, boiled, stuffed, dried and pickled. The fruit is cut into small pieces, like squash, for cooking. Fried flower buds and flowers are delicacies in Indian and Chinese cuisine and raw flowers are a nice addition to tossed salads. The fruit contains 93% water, 1.2% protein, 0.2% fat, 3.1% carbohydrate, 2.0% fibre and 0.5% ash (Purseglove, 1976). Du et al. (2006) reported that luffa fruit was a good source of antioxidants. The seed yields edible oil. Seed kernels, approximately 51% weight of the seeds, contain 46% oil and 40% protein (Purseglove, 1976).
Different plant parts are used in native medicines in India, China and in other countries. Cucurbits are a well recognized source of secondary metabolites. Ng et al. (1992) reported two proteins from seeds of sponge gourd that had the capability to induce mid-term abortion in mice, inhibit protein synthesis in a cell-free system, and suppress thymidine uptake in human choriocarcinoma cells. Ng (1993) found a mention of the use of cucurbits to induce second trimester abortions in China dating back to 1920. Sponge gourd is also used in Chinese medicine to treat rheumatic pain. El-Fiky et al. (1996) observed a significant decrease in the blood sugar of streptozotocin diabetic rats by the oral administration of ethanolic extracts of L. aegyptiaca seeds, while producing no changes in blood sugar levels in normal rats. Sap from the stem is used in toilet preparations in Japan.
Portuguese explorers first discovered uses for the fibro-vascular network of the ripe fruit of sponge gourd. It is presently used as bath sponge, pot scrubber, filter, packing material and for making handicrafts (Porterfield, 1955; Heiser, 1979). Fibre also possesses sound- and shock-absorbing properties and is therefore used in sandals, insoles, gloves and helmets. Sponges of different fibre density are needed for different products (Davis and DeCourley, 1993). The largest market for luffa sponge is in the cosmetic industry, where it is used in various bath and cosmetic products.
Luffa sponge has been found to be effective in the removal of heavy metal from aqueous solutions. Iqbal and Edyvean (2004) found that alginate-coated loofa sponge removed cadmium, rapidly reaching an equilibrium loading of 124 mg/g in 30 min with 70% of equilibrium uptake achieved in 10 min. In contrast, it took 240 min for alginate beads to reach a loading equilibrium of 88 mg/g under identical conditions.
Uses ListTop of page
Human food and beverage
Prevention and ControlTop of page
From Englberger (2009):
'Physical control can be effective if used repeatedly for and extended period. For chemical control, triclopyr and glyphosate can be used.'
ReferencesTop of page
Davis JM; DeCourley CD, 1993. Luffa sponge gourds: a potential crop for small farms. In: Janick J, Simon JE, eds. New Crops. New York, USA: Wiley, 560-561.
DOASL, 2006. Luffa. Department of Agriculture, Sri Lanka. Online at: http://www.agridept.gov.lk/agri_tech_search.php?hid=Vegetables&shid=Luffa&mhid=Crop%20 management, modified February 2006.
Du Q; Jerg G; Winterhalter P; Zhao Y; Xu Y; Li L, 2006. Antioxidant constituents in the fruits of Luffa cylindrica (L.) Roem. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 54:4186-4190.
El-Fiky FK; Abou-Karam MA; Afify EA, 1996. Effect of Luffa aegyptiaca (seeds) and Carissa edulis (leaves) extracts on blood glucose level of normal and streptozotocin diabetic rats. Journal Ethnopharmacology, 50:43-7.
Ellington TL; Wehner TC, 1996. Post-harvest treatments for producing sponges from immature fruits of luffa gourd. Cucurbit Genetic Coop. Report, 19:85-86.
Englberger K, 2009. Invasive weeds of Pohnpei: A guide for identification and public awareness. Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia: Conservation Society of Pohnpei, 29 pp.
Esquinas-Alcazar JT; Gulick PJ, 1983. Genetic resources of Cucurbitaceae. Rome, Italy: International Board for Plant Genetic Resource.
Heiser CB, 1979. The Gourd Book. Norman, USA: University of Oklahoma Press.
Iqbal M; Edyvean RGJ, 2004. Alginate coated loofa sponge discs for the removal of cadmium from aqueous solutions. Biotechnology Letters, 26:165-169.
Malik IJ; Ellington TL; Wehner TC; Sanders DC, 2001. Seed treatment effects on emergence of Luffa sponge gourd. Cucurbit Genetic Coop. Report, 24:107-109.
Mansfeld R, 2001. Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Ng TB; Wong RNS; Yeung HW, 1992. Two proteins with ribosome-inactivating, cytotoxic and abortifacient activities from seeds of Luffa cylindrica Roem (Cucurbitaceae). Biochemistry International, 27:197-207.
Ng TJ, 1993. New opportunities in Cucurbitaceae. In: Janick J, Simon JE, eds. New Crops. New York, USA: Wiley, 538-546.
Okusanya OT; Ola Adams BA; Bamidele JF, 1981. Variation in size, leaf morphology and fruit characters among 25 populations of Luffa aegyptica. Canadian Journal Botany, 59:2618-2627.
Omini ME; Hossain MG, 1987. Modification of sex expression in sponge gourd (Luffa cylindrica L. Roem) by mineral nutrient treatments. Genetica, 74:203-209.
PIER, 2007. Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. http://www.hear.org/pier/species/luffa_aegyptiaca.htm.
Purseglove JW, 1976. Tropical Crops: Dicotyledons. London, UK: Longman Group.
Seshadri VS, 1999. Cucurbits. In: Bose TK, Som MG, Kabir J, eds. Vegetable Crops. Calcutta, India: Naya Prokash, 91-164.
Shah JJ; Thanki YJ; Kothari IL, 1980. Skeletal fibrous net in fruits of Luffa cylindrica M. Roem. and Luffa acutangula Roxb. In: Nagaraj M, Malik CP, eds. Current Trends in Botanical Research. New Delhi, India: Kalyani Publishers, 61-72.
Singh PK; Dasgupta SK, 2004. Hybrid luffah. Journal of New Seeds, 6:211-215.
Talpur MA; Hussain T; Rustamani MA; Siddiqui MD; Chhutto AB, 1998. Comparative bio-efficacy of baits and insecticides in controlling Ethiopian melon fly, Bactrocera ciliatus (Loew) on sponge gourd. Pakistan Entomologist, 20(1/2): 84-86.
Wehner TC; Ellington TL, 1997. Seed treatment effects on emergence of luffa sponge gourd. Cucurbit Genetic Coop. Report, 20:63-64.
Wehner TC; Ellington TL, 1999. Vegetable cultivar descriptions for North America, list 24, Gourd-Luffa Sponge. HortScience, 34:800.
Zipcode Zoo, 2007. Luffa aegyptiaca. http://zipcodezoo.com/Plants/L/Luffa_aegyptiaca/. BayScience Foundation, Inc.
Distribution MapsTop of page
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