This desiccated winter planter turned my head near George Brown College a few weeks ago. Not for its artistry, but for the realization: Hey, those red “pine cones” are loofahs!
Loofahs! Not sea creatures, but the fibrous cores of mature gourds such as Luffa aegyptiaca – all in the cucumber or squash family. We associate loofahs with sponges because they hang out together in bed-and-bath stores. See their rough material in back scrubbers, bath mitts or spa slippers.
No matter how you want to use them (in crafty ways like luffa lights or luffa plant starters or other cool ideas), you can grow your own. But you must give them what they need: a longish growing season, a warm, sunny site, and lots of room to sprawl – like a long fence. Not in my shady Microgarden, for instance.
A couple of Canadian seed sources are William Dam and West Coast – if you know of others, let us know. Get the jump on planting these heat-lovers by pre-starting them indoors around now. (A handy guide from Gardengate tells when to begin, by USDA zone. Toronto would be Z5-ish.)
This info-packed Mother Earth News article explains how to soak off the flesh, and more. Of course, they won’t be red. They’d be a shade of pale. Possibly fabric dye would work to colour them?
When young, Luffa is also edible. The author of this garlic-and-chili-peppery recipe says they soak up broth like, well, a sponge. Even if we can’t grow them, with so many Asian markets in Toronto, we might be able to spot a few to try. Look for their AKAs, Chinese okra or silk squash.
Because I can’t simply post without dropping down a Google rabbit hole, let me introduce the American Gourd Society, found via a link promising a Luffa page that no longer exists. The site shows that no plant is too humble to win aficionados. Gourd art can be impressive. Who knew?