Table of Contents
Davis, J.M. and C.D. DeCourley. 1993. Luffa sponge gourds: A potential crop
for small farms. p. 560-561. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops.
Wiley, New York.
Luffa Sponge Gourds: A Potential Crop for Small Farms
Jeanine M. Davis and Charles D. DeCourley
- CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Table 1
- Fig. 1
The fibrous interiors of fruits from the luffa sponge gourd (Luffa
aegyptiaca Mill.) are used primarily as bath sponges but also as pot
scrubbers, filters, packing material, and for making crafts. Currently, almost
all luffa used in the United States is imported from Taiwan, China, Korea, El
Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, and Columbia. C.D. DeCourley conducted
a survey of wholesale luffa buyers that revealed that luffa is imported as a
raw dried product and as finished products such as bath mitts. Luffa sales are
reported in inches. The survey showed that over 10 million inches (25 x
106 cm) of raw luffa, with a wholesale value of over $0.5 million,
are imported each year. Approximately 9 million inches (23 x 106
cm) are imported as luffa products. These value added products have a retail
value of over $4 million. Changing economic conditions and an increasing
demand for luffa products, however, have also created the potential for viable
Luffa is closely related to cucumber and has similar cultural requirements. It
is a tropical plant, however, which requires a longer growing season than most
cucurbits grown in North America. The objective of this study was to develop a
production system for luffa grown in the temperate climates of North Carolina
Planting date, planting method, in-row spacing and pruning were studied in
western North Carolina. In 1989, three planting dates (May 29, June 12, and
June 26) and two planting methods (direct seeding vs. transplanting) were
examined. Plants were trained to a single-curtain trellis and grown on raised
beds with black plastic mulch and drip irrigation. Rows were spaced 1.5 m
apart and plants were spaced 45.7 cm apart in the row. Highest yields,
earliest maturity, and largest sponges were obtained when plants were
transplanted and set early (Table 1). In 1990, three in-row spacings (31, 61,
and 91 cm) and three pruning treatments (no pruning, removing the first four
laterals, and topping the main stem at node 6) were examined. Plants were
grown on trellises with rows spaced 1.5 m apart. The highest yields of
marketable gourds were obtained when plants were spaced 31 cm apart in the row
and the first four laterals were removed (Fig. 1). Although this treatment did
not provide the largest gourds, there was no difference in yields of gourds in
the size category most requested by buyers, i.e., gourds 31 to 61 cm long and
7.5 to 10 cm in diameter.
Trellis systems and seed sources were also studied in Missouri. To produce
straight, well-formed, disease-free gourds, luffa must be grown on a trellis.
A sturdy trellis that permits good light penetration and air circulation is
required. In 1990, three trellis systems were evaluated; a single curtain
system, the Geneva double curtain (three wires formed a "V" at the top of the
trellis) and the Lincoln system (four wires across the top of "T" posts). The
Lincoln system was preferred because it provided the best support; the fruit
hung free beneath the vines, resulting in a high percentage of straight fruit
with few blemishes; and the fruit matured early.
Commercially available luffa seeds are rarely identified by cultivar, making it
difficult to obtain seed that will produce gourds with desired characteristics.
In 1990, seeds from 20 sources were grown. Days to maturity, yields, gourd
size, and fiber quality varied considerably between seed lots. Number of
gourds per plant ranged from 3.5 to 20. Average gourd length varied from 48 to
79 cm and the diameter from 7 to 11 cm. Days from fruit set to fruit maturity
ranged from 53 to 88 days and was highly variable within each seed lot.
Because luffa is open pollinated and crosses easily, further trials must be
conducted on the seed collected from the most promising selections to determine
if the quality can be maintained from year to year.
The skin, pulp, and seeds must be removed from the gourds before marketing.
The skin and pulp are removed by soaking the gourds in water. The skins are
easiest to remove from gourds that are mature when they begin to dry. An
effective method for removing seeds is to shake them out manually. This
method, however, is labor intensive and time-consuming. If a light colored
sponge is desired, cleaned sponges may be soaked briefly in a 10% bleach
Sponges with different fiber densities and textures are required for making
different products. A subjective grading system with five grades based on
fiber density, texture, and appearance was developed by C.D. DeCourley to
assist buyers, growers, and researchers. J.M. Davis used an AgVision
monochrome system (Decagon Devices, Inc., Pullman, WA) to provide a
quantitative evaluation. AgVision is a computer controlled video system
designed for digital image analysis. Using this system, the area occupied by
fibers in a 50 cm2 section of the outer wall of a luffa sponge was
determined. Sponge samples from the seed source trials in Missouri were
evaluated by three luffa buyers from the cosmetic industry and three
researchers. In general, the buyers gave the samples lower quality ratings
than did the researchers. All samples with a poor subjective rating also had a
low rating with the AgVision system. A better grading system needs to be
developed for both industry and research use.
The largest market for luffa is the cosmetic industry which uses luffa in
various bath and cosmetic products. A small market for luffa sponges also
exists at farmers' markets, gift shops, and to crafters. Wholesale buyers of
luffa have indicated a willingness to purchase domestically grown luffa if the
quality and prices are competitive with the imported product and the supply is
Luffa gourds could be a new crop for a few American growers. Companies
currently importing luffa are interested in domestic production. The known
market will only support about 20 to 30 ha, but wholesale buyers indicate that
demand is increasing. Presently, it is not known if high quality luffa can be
produced at a price that is competitive with imported luffa. Before doing an
economic feasibility study, a reliable production system needs to be developed.
Based on the research and demonstrations conducted in North Carolina and
Missouri, we currently recommend that growers start small and have a marketing
plan before planting. Fertilizer recommendations for trellised cucumbers and
pest control for gourds should be followed until specific studies on luffa are
conducted. Seed should be obtained from sponges that are the quality desired
by the buyer. Four to five week old transplants should be planted as soon
after the last frost as possible. Plants should be spaced 31 cm apart in the
row and the first four laterals removed. Irrigation is essential and mulch
beneficial. A sturdy trellis is needed, preferably one that will allow the
gourds to hang free. One or two bee hives should be placed near the field.
Gourds should be removed from the field as soon as they are dry.
Table 1. Influence of planting date and planting method on yield and
size of luffa gourds.
There is no significant difference in sponge length. Main effect differences
(planting date and planting method) for yield and diameter are significant at P
= 0.01. Interactions were not significant.
| ||No. gourds/ha x 103 ||Fruit size (cm) |
|Planting date ||Planting method ||1st harvest ||Total harvest ||Length ||Diameter|
|May 29 ||Transplant ||46.8 ||91.2 ||36.6 ||8.4|
|June 12 ||Transplant ||32.8 ||81.8 ||36.0 ||8.3|
|June 26 ||Transplant ||20.7 ||74.5 ||35.1 ||7.6|
|May 29 ||Direct seed ||20.7 ||74.0 ||36.6 ||8.2|
|June 12 ||Direct seed ||11.0 ||67.0 ||35.4 ||7.4|
|June 26 ||Direct seed ||4.6 ||63.0 ||34.4 ||7.2|
Fig. 1. Influence of spacing and pruning on luffa gourd yields.
Last update September 17, 1997