Sponges from Veggies- Harvesting Loofah in the Lowcountry

A Moment of Science

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Loofa. Loofah. Luffa…no matter how you spell it, the sponge is a mainstay in the bathroom. You probably have one, likely brightly colored and made of a plastic mesh. A natural one does the job just as well but you might be surprised to find where it comes from. 

“So this sponge right here, which many people think comes from the sea or is a sea creature is actually the inners of a gourd like this,” says Brian Wheat, the owner of Common Joy-one of the few commercial sponge farms in the country, “and certainly the only one in South Carolina so far.” 

Way down on Johns Island, he grows and sells loofah for both cleaning and eating! Edible if picked off the vine while young and small, loofah is similar to zucchini and is quite popular in some Southeast Asian cuisine. 

As it matures on the vine, the inner flesh becomes more and more fibrous, no longer edible, as spongy material starts to form. This web of cellulose will eventually fill the inside of the vegetable once it fully matures and dries on the vine. Once ready, all Brian has to do is score the brittle skin, discarding it to the side, and pull out the sponge from inside!

Once all of the loofahs are harvested and shucked, for lack of a better word, Brian rinses them with a light bleach solution and empties out the seeds that fill the inner chambers of the plant, just like a cucumber, pumpkin, or a seeded watermelon- as they’re all part of the same gourd family!

While its plant cousins are great, only loofah, growing up to a meter long, can create environmentally friendly replacements to the synthetic sponges in our sinks and bathrooms. 

“This is a highly renewable resource, I can plant these every year and in about 200 days I’ve got a sponge,” says Brian. “They’ll last longer than a conventional sponge will and when you’re finished with it you can just toss it in your backyard to compost or put it in your compost pile.” 

Returning this natural plant-based tool to the Lowcountry soil where it was grown- while reducing your plastic waste. For more information on where to find Common Joy sponges, or how to grow your own Loofah- reach out to Brian via the Common Joy website!

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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