Kentucky coffeetree, or Gymnocladus dioicus, is a large tree with bold texture and ornamental bark. It has rapid growth, and winter-persistent large seed pods. In youth it has an irregular shape, becoming more upright to spreading with maturity and with age, majestic. It is an ideal lawn tree that casts only light shade in summer making it good to garden under. Kentucky coffee tree is also useful as an urban tree and for street plantings since it is tolerant of air pollution, salt and drought. Female trees are, however, messy in fall when they drop their pods. Male cultivars, which do not produce pods, are becoming available in more select nurseries.

The Kentucky coffeetree can reach 100 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. The tree has deciduous leaves that are bipinnately compound and usually turn a pleasant yellow in autumn. And it produces small white to lavender flowers in large racemes that are wonderfully fragrant. The bean-like pods that follow are hard and woody when mature and contain several seeds surrounded in sweet, greenish pulp; however the pulp is slightly poisonous. During the deprivations of the American civil war, a coffee substitute was made from the roasted seeds.

Kentucky coffee tree grows in deep rich soil in bottom lands, in association with sweetgums, tupelos, oaks and hickories in its native range yet cultivation has extended that range to virtually all of the United States and southern Canada and was introduced to the UK in 1748. As usual, this special tree will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

Kentucky coffeetree



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