Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
A stroll under the pergola beside our Monocot Garden will reveal a remarkable sight: nearly two dozen large gourds, hanging from the beams above.
The majority of them, the ones that look like huge cucumbers, are fruits of the loofah (Luffa aegyptiaca), the source of the natural scrubbing sponge. As with most of the gourd family, the plant is a vigorous vine that will grow quickly from a seedling planted in spring, and easily covers a structure like the pergola by late summer. Ours are grown for ornament only.
Despite the specific epithet (aegyptiaca), the loofah appears to have originated in Southeast Asia and was introduced to the Mediterranean region in ancient times; hence the apparent misnaming by later botanists.
Among the loofahs are some examples of Lagenaria siceraria ‘Speckled Swan’, an attractive cultivar of the calabash gourd.