Climbing Okra, an Edible Gourd

If you want a decorative edible gourd that tastes as good as it looks, check out climbing okra.

| May/June 1985

  • edible gourd, climbing okra - yellow flowers
    Climbing okra is an edible gourd that offers a double bounty of bright, fragrant flowers and delicious fruit.
  • edible gourd, climbing okra - seeds pods
    Despite the resemblance of its seed pods to okra, climbing okra is in fact kin to the common cucumber.

  • edible gourd, climbing okra - yellow flowers
  • edible gourd, climbing okra - seeds pods

Despite its name, climbing okra (Luffa acutangula) isn't an okra at all. Rather, it's been tagged with that misleading moniker because of its superficial resemblance to garden okra.

So, just what is climbing okra, if okra it ain't? It's an edible gourd, a kissing cousin to the loofah (Luffa cylindrica). And, since all Luffa varieties belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, climbing okra is actually kin to the common cucumber.

Climbing okra is a vigorous vine that uses its long tendrils to cling to supporting structures such as trellises and fences. Depending on soil quality and related growing conditions, this plant's runners can reach 6' to 20' in length, quickly covering its support with a lush canopy of large, dark green leaves. (In warm, moist regions it's sometimes necessary to control the vine's rampant growth by pinching off the tips of runners.)

Luffa acutangula begins producing flowers well before reaching maturity. Blooms are 2 1/2" to 3 1/2" in diameter and resemble butter yellow thunbergia flowers. The blossoms open late in the afternoon and remain open all night. At twilight the flowers almost seem to glow, exuding a sweet fragrance that's irresistible to moths and late-shift bees. Male and female blooms grow on separate stalks and are easy to tell apart: The males stand out from the foliage on elongated stalks; female flowers hug the stems and are backed by immature fruit.

A Multitude of Uses for the Okra that Ain't

Once your climbing okra begins to bloom, it's time for you to keep a sharp eye out for young fruit; hidden among the large leaves, they're difficult to spot and can quickly grow too large to be tender. The flesh of the young fruit is snow white with contrasting green ridges, giving a cross-sectioned slice the appearance of a cogwheel.

If picked while still young and tender, vine okra has a sweet, delicate taste and can be used like summer squash. For boiling, stirfrying, or steaming, select fruit that are no more than 6" to 7" long. You can then peel them—or simply slice off the ridges, as the Chinese do.

12/5/2017 5:55:49 PM

I purchased these from ROBsRAREandGIANT seed on the Amazon Site earlier this year.

Sue Kuhn
2/3/2011 7:20:37 AM

I would like to find some vineing okra seed

Pamela Godfrey
5/11/2010 4:44:45 PM

Please tell me where to get the seeds for the Climbing Okra. I have lost my seeds and am having a really hard time finding some! Thanks so much!


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