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Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is also known as Okro, or “ladyfinger” in many English countries. It is a flowering plant belonging to the Malvaceae family and is cultivated for its edible green seed pods. Okra is a commonly used vegetable in South Asian, West African, and Ethiopian cuisines and grows in warm temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions.

Description of Okra

Okra is a perennial plant; it is cultivated annually in warm temperate climates. The plant grows to 2 metres in height. It is related to other members of the Malvaceae family, such as hibiscus, cotton, and cocoa. Okra leaves are palmately and have 5–7 broad lobes, growing between 10–20 cm long. The flowers of okra are 4–8 cm in diameter with five petals. Petals are white to yellow, with a purple or red spot at the base. The okra fruit, or the seed pod, is capsule-like and 18 cm long with a pentagonal shape cross-section. The capsule contains many seeds.

How is Okra eaten?

Young okra leaves are also edible and cooked in the same way as greens of dandelions or beets. The pods of okra are mucilaginous from the inside, which has characteristic slime or "goo" when the fruit or seed pods are cooked. The mucilage is soluble fibre. The best way to remove the slimy texture is by deep frying it or cooking it with acidic vegetables like tomatoes. Pods are consumed in pickled and cooked form. Okra is also used in developing countries to combat malnutrition and improve food insecurity. The roasted and grounded okra seeds are also used as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.

The oil pressed from okra seeds is greenish-yellow in colour and is edible. Okra oil is pleasant in odour and taste, rich in unsaturated fats like linoleic acid and oleic acid.  Okra oil can also be used as biofuel. Okra is mostly found in two types, red and green. Both varieties have the same taste, but green is more popular, though red also turns into green when cooked. 

Nutritional Information for Okra

Raw okra contains: water 90%, protein 2%, carbohydrates 7%, and significantly less fat. Raw okra is rich with vitamin C, dietary fiber, and vitamin K, with few thiamin, magnesium, and folate quantities.

Growing Okra

Okra is cultivated in the warm temperate and tropical regions of the world.  Okra is a drought - and - heat tolerant vegetable making it quite versatile. It can tolerate heavy clay soils and irregular moisture, but it cannot stand frost as the pods get damaged. For the best yield of okra, cultivate it after 3 weeks of spring when all the danger of cold weather is gone. Before growing, spread fertilizers on soil and mix it with soil.

Okra plant can adapt to many soil conditions, but it grows best in well-drained and organic matter rich soil. The soil of 5.8-7 pH is ideal for an okra crop. If transplanting potted okra, each plant is spaced 2 feet apart. If okra is grown by seeds, sow them 12-17 inches apart. The space between rows should be 3 feet apart.

Before cultivating, soak the okra seeds for one night. Seeds are sowed 1-2 cm deep in the soil. Okra plants grow best in the soil with an average 20 °C temperature. After germination of seeds, seedlings need plenty of water.

Examine the plants repeatedly and keep removing weeds. Apply fertilizers monthly and add compost. When the seedlings grows 3 inches above the soil, thin the seedlings 15 inches apart. Provide plenty of water throughout the hot summer to prevent the plants from wilting. 

After 2 months, your okra should  be ready for the first harvest. After a week of pollination, the immature, 2-3-inch-long seed pods or fruit should be immediately harvested; otherwise, it will turn fibrous, hard, and woody within days. Cut the pod from 1 cm above its cap with a blade; if the stem is hard to cut, it is too old and not edible. While cutting, wear gloves because some varieties of okra have tiny spikes on the pod's surface. To speed up the second production after 1st harvest your must remove the lower leaves.

Pest and diseases affecting Okra

The most prevalent disease that affects an okra crop is verticillium wilt, which causes a wilting and yellowing of the leaves. Other diseases which affect okra plants are leaf spots, root-knot nematodes, and powdery mildew.

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