Wild gourd or luffa sponge (Luffa aegyptiaca, Luffa cylindrica)
The luffa sponge (also known as Smooth Luffa, Egyptian Luffa, or Wild Squash) is widely distributed and fairly typical of a wild squash. There are several dozen kinds of wild squashes in tropical regions.
Like most squashes, the luffa is a fast growing vine that can reach lengths of 30 feet, with leaves 7.5 to 20 centimeters (3 to 8 inches) across having 3-7 triangular or oval shaped lobes. Some squashes have leaves twice this size. The alternately arranged leaves often have silvery patches on the topside. Luffa fruits are oblong or cylindrical, smooth, and many-seeded. Luffa flowers are 2-3 inches wide, bright yellow with five petals each with rough, or serrated edges often curled inward. The luffa fruit, when mature, is brown with a papery skin, cylindrical and smooth, often shaped like a club, slightly wider on one end. The smaller fruits may look like cucumbers or okra.
Where to Find: A member of the squash family, which also includes the watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber, the luffa sponge is widely cultivated throughout the tropical zone. It may be found in a semi-wild state in old clearings and abandoned gardens in rain forests and semi-evergreen seasonal forests. It prefers sun, plenty of water, and something to climb on.
Edible Parts: You can boil the young green (half-ripe) fruit and eat them as a vegetable or grate them and use in soups or salads. Adding coconut milk will improve the flavor. Larger fruits develop bitter skins which can be peeled to improve taste. You can also eat the tender shoots, flowers, and young leaves after cooking them. Roast the mature seeds a little and eat them like peanuts or press them to extract the edible oil. After ripening, the luffa sponge develops an inedible sponge-like texture in the interior of the fruit.
Other Uses: Ripe fruits can be used to make cleaning sponges for baths or to clean tools or glass. When dry they are rotproof and recover their original shape after being pressed down.
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