A member of the hibiscus family, okra is an annual (a plant that germinates, grows and dies in a single season or year) that can grow from 3 to 8 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. The plant is a rather coarse annual with large lobed, slightly spiny leaves and a thick, semi-woody stem with few branches. The flowers are showy: hibiscus-like with pale yellow or cream colored petals and purplish hearts. Okra blooms and produces over an extended season, usually until first frost, bearing yellow flowers that give rise to the familiar okra pods so valued in Cajun gumbos.
Okra is native to the Old World tropics - probably West Africa - and has become established in the wild in some New World tropical areas. It is generally believed that okra first reached the New World during the days of slave trafficking. Okra is a popular and important food in Third World tropical countries. It is widely used in India, Africa and the Middle East, but almost unknown in Europe and northern North America.