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By Jorge Murillo-Yepes
First of all we admit the loofah is not a tree: it is a fast growing, annual, climbing plant with tendrils that grab out eagerly for support. However it can be as big as a tree, up to 30 metres!
Female flowers are moderate to good nectar suppliers; male blooms yield a good pollen value. The loofah's profuse and continuous blossoming during rainy periods provides excellent bee colony build-up and maintenance forage. Recommended for planting to increase honey production.
MOST POPULAR SPECIES
Ridged loofah Luffa acutangula Common loofah Luffa cylindrica (L) Roem
Luffa aegyptiaca, Poppia fabiana
Loofah,luffa, Chinese loofah, vegetable sponge, dishcloth gourd Jinghi, tochon (West Indies)
Estopajo, coladera, meocoton, calabazo, quingombo (LatinAmerica)
Bucha dos paulistas (Brazil)
A native of the Asian tropics, loofah is found throughout warm tropical, sup-tropical and temperate areas.
Widely utilised as handy bath accessories, skin exfoliators and pot scrubbers, loofah offers a renewable altemative to the endangered sea sponge. During World War II the durable fibre was used in surgical operations, as a filter in the Navy's steam and diesel engines, as cushioning in vehicle and tank seats and because of its insulating properties, in Army helmet linings.
Loofah gourds can also be processed into pot holders, doormats, gloves, sandals, caps, hats, waistcoats, stuffing for mattresses and saddles and have many other uses. Loofah readily takes dyes and can be embroidered for the crafting of decorated bags, place mats and garments, This versatile plant has served for hundreds of years as a healing agent. Loofah seeds are emetic and purgative, and the leaves are used by the Chinese in a treatment for skin diseases. In Japan a preparation made from loofah is sold as a skin softener. According to a sixteenth century Chinese herbalist, "The fresh fruit is considered to be cooling and beneficial to the intestines".
deep green foliage, composed of large, hirsute, long petioled leaves with seven palmeated lobes.
large (up to 12 cm in diameter), lemon yellow, with five spreading petals.
The female flowers of this monoecious plants (both male and female blooms on the same vine) develop singly on the plants stem, while their male counterparts grow in dangling bunches. After pollination the male flowers drop, while the females remain attached to the developing fruit.
HONEY: light amber, slightly aromatic.
A sturdy plant which is easily grown, even in poor soils. Loofah does not tolerate sustained temperatures below 18°C. Relatively resistant to mildew. The seeds remain viable for several years when stored under dry conditions.
Crane,E; Walker,P; Day,R (1984) Directory of Important World Honey Sources. lBRA, London,UK.
Kelly,C; Shobe J (1981) For Luffa or Money!
The Mother Earth News Magazine 68, pp126-127. Laurence,G. A. (1976) Common Bee Weeds of Trinidad and Tobago.
Little,E.L; Wadworth, F.H.(1964) Common Trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Washington DC, USA.
PEREZ-ARBELAEZ, E (1990) Plantas Utiles de Colombia.
USDA (1964) Handbook 249, Volume 1.
USDA (1974) Handbook No449, Voiume2.