||Annual herbaceous climber
||Leaves dark green, simple, palmately-lobed, rough-textured and with hairy stalks that are 5-10 cm long.
||Stem five-angled, growing up to 15 m in length, with 2 - 6 tendrils at each point where tendrils extend.
||Flowers deep yellow, growing up to 5-10 cm in diameter and unisexual. Male flowers are borne on stalks on unbranched elongated inflorescences, known as racemes, while female flowers are solitary and borne in the same leaf-axils as the male flowers. Flowers open in the day.
||Fruit dry and fibrous, splitting from a lid-like structure, known as an operculum, located at the apex of the fruit. Subcylindrical in shape, smooth, not prominently ribbed and growing to 30-60 cm long, the fruit has a fibrous spongy skeleton network inside, containing numerous seeds that are smooth and black with a narrow wing-like margin. Green in colour when young, the fruit turns dry and brown when mature, together with the disappearance of its soft internal tissue.
||The genus Luffa is native to the Old World (4 species) and New World (3 species) tropics. Wild forms of L. cylindrica, one of the Old World species, can be found in Burma to the Philippines and southwards to north-easthern Australia and Tahiti. Now cultivated pantropically, it is not known where it was first domesticated. The plant also grows wild as an escape from cultivation. It grows best in the low humid tropics, up to 500 m altitude. However, excellent cultivars have emerged from Japan, grown during the summer season.
||Rich soils with high organic matter content, good drainage and pH values of 6.5 to 7.5 are preferred. Sandy loams may also be used as a growing medium, but sufficient nutrients must be supplied. This species is intolerant of too much water, with high rainfall especially harmful during flowering and fruiting seasons. Differences in daylength sensitivity exist amongst the cultivars, there being day-neutral, short-day and long-day cultivars.
||Luffa, or loofah, is derived from the Arabic name, louff, while the specific epithet, cylindrica, refers to the shape of the fruit.
||Edible Plant Parts (Edible Fruits, Edible Leaves, Edible Flowers)
Food (Fruit & Vegetable : Immature fruits, young leaves and flower buds are used as vegetables. The young fruit is cooked or fried for use in soups or sliced and dried for later use. Young fruits from the sweet cultivars may be eaten raw like cucumbers or pickled if small in size. Mature fruits are fibrous, bitter and inedible, containing purgative substances. The seeds are a source of edible oil. )
Medicinal ( The fibres, charred and fresh fruits, seeds, leaves and sap from the stem are used medicinally, particularly in Japan and China.)
[Others]: The mature fruit is the source of the loofah sponge, which has many commercially important uses. Rind and seeds are removed from the mature, leaving behind the internal fibrous spongy network, which is the part that is used. During World War 2, loofah sponges were used as engine filters, because Japan, the main producer of engine filters, had stopped their export. During that time, the sponge was also used in steel helmets and armoured vehicles for their shock- and sound-absorbing properties. Today, loofah sponges are used as insulating material, bath sponges, door and bath mats, insoles, sandals and even gloves.