Gifts from the Sea … or Not!

Sea Stars

A recent stroll down Dodecanese Boulevard on a sunny afternoon felt like a trip to the Greek Islands.

Shells and sponges; baklava and gyros; worry beads and Madonnas all competed for tourists’ attention. But instead of being in the middle of the Aegean Sea  … I was in Tarpon Springs. Florida.

Worry beads

Shopfronts overflowed with gifts from the sea – shells, sea stars, and sponges of every description. Each basket yielded a new ocean jewel .

Sponge basket

Classic yellow and wool sponges competed with fancy finger and vase sponges – a photographer’s dream.

But as I learned, one of these items was out of place – a pretender to the sea life throne. An impostor with the right shape and form, but different lineage.

Can you spot it?

Loofah 1

If you chose the loofah in the center, you would be right (and you’re way ahead of me). The loofah (also luffa) is a member of the vining cucumber family, and a popular edible vegetable in China. As the fruit matures it develops a stiff, fibrous skeleton, which after peeling and drying becomes the familiar scrubbing sponge found in kitchens and bathrooms. If you’re curious about the process, check it out here.


I just love it that I can still be surprised … regularly!


Sponge boat

Photo Credit:
12. By Pekinensis via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

33 thoughts

  1. some tiny luffas grow wild here in ecuador. the locals think i’m nuts for cultivating them, but i have my very own personal supply of throw away scrubbers!

    i’ve never thought about cooking them when they’re tiny.


    lovely photos, btw!


    1. That’s cool Lisa! I didn’t know they grew in Ecuador. And having your own personal supply of scrubbers is a good thing! I would be curious to know what they taste like – cucumbers or something else. Maybe you’ll have to do a taste test. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. a long long time ago i grew the ‘edible luffa’ – the blossoms had a unique aroma which i was not too fond of; the fruits reminded me of zucchini.. the smaller the better… it wasn’t a vegetable i was prompted to plant again!

        the little ones have just finished the growing season; we’re weaning into the dry season, but when i am home i will look for some late bloomers!!!


    1. Thanks Andrea! I was really surprised about the loofahs because I thought they were sponges! I’ve always been drawn to sea stars and these are some of my faves! All the best, Terri

  2. Who knew? And WHAT would you do with a loofah that large? I’m more than a little jealous of that Florida sunshine, btw.

    1. Hi Megan! I was surprised too! I guess the long ones provide a really easy way to give your feet a good scrubbing! 🙂 The Florida sunshine was great – not as blistering as it will be in July and August. ~Terri

    1. I didn’t know that! I love Indian food and now I wonder if I’ve eaten it, but didn’t know it! I’ll have to ask at the restaurant. Thanks so much for the new info! ~Terri

  3. I have never met a loofah I didn’t like!! Spent time in Ft. Lauderdale and up the coast and it was wonderful to have sun sun sun after Vancouver’s gray winter. The ultimate luxury would be to have an enormous basket of the sea sponges gracing my bathroom. V.

    1. Virginia you’re so right about the Florida sun being a tonic after a gray winter! When we talked with the man cleaning the sponges he said that most of those would be shipped overseas. Darn! I just wanted to fill up a duffle bag and take them home! 🙂 ~Terri

  4. You’re so right – these sponges and shells and stars are very photogenic. And I get half a gold star. 🙂 I knew the loofah doesn’t come from the sea, but I thought it came from a tree. I didn’t realize it came from a cucumber vine. That would make a good Trivial Pursuit question.

    1. You’re back! Yay! Anita we’ve missed you and are SO glad to see you! 🙂 I think you deserve a full gold star just for knowing it’s a plant – way ahead of me! Love the Trivial Pursuit idea. Can’t wait to catch up with you. We’re visiting with family in Kentucky now and thought about you when we drove through Nashville. All the best, Terri

      1. It’s so good to hear from you! I’ve missed you guys too.
        If you come through Nashville again, I have to recommend the Night Light display at Cheekwood gardens ( Big D and I are planning on going soon – maybe this weekend. It is going to be so beautiful!
        P.S. Big D shook hands with Billy Gibbons the week before last!!!

      2. OMG – Awesome! We’re on our way to my Aunt’s funeral in Indiana and not sure yet of our return route. If we come through Nashville we will definitely check out Cheekwood – it sounds way cool. Looking forward to having you back! 🙂

  5. When I was in Tarpon Springs, I was also surprised to see loofahs I knew that they were a plant but are usually referred to as a sponge. I thought it was pretty misleading to have them out for sale with all of the ‘real’ sponges.

    1. You’re right Laura. It seems that loofahs and sponges are always sold together, hence the misconception that they both come from the sea. What we’ve actually been looking at is bath care products. Pretty funny. ~Terri

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