October 2022 - Kentucky Coffee

Common Name:  Kentucky Coffee Tree 

Botanical Name:  Gymnocladus dioicus

Native Range:  Northeastern and Central United States USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8

Height: Can reach a height of 90 feet. More often 60 feet in the urban environment

Spread: 40 to 50 feet. More often 35 feet in the urban environment

Form:  Upright arching branches develop into an ornamental oval crown at maturity

Growth Rate:  Slow to moderate growth rate. Male trees grow faster and are more frequently used as parks and street trees. 

Sun:  Full sun 

Soil:   Very adaptable tree. Tolerates drought conditions, wet conditions, low pH, high pH. Prefers rich moist soils. 

Leaf Description:  Very large bipinnately, alternate, compound 3’ leaves with numerous 2” leaflets. Leaves are pink-bronze when they emerge turning to dark green in summer. Leaves are tropical in appearance 

Fall Color:  Yellow

Flower Description: Female flowers are 8 to 12 inches long, greenish-white in color appear in early summer, and are fragrant. Male flowers are about half the size of female flowers. 

Fruit: Female trees have panicle pods that can be 8 to 10 inches long containing a poisonous fruit that can be neutralized by roasting. 

Bark Description:  The bark is ash-gray and scaly

Wildlife Benefit: Nesting for birds

Tolerates:  Urban conditions, pollution, clay soil, wet soil, drought, high pH, low pH

Possible Disease and Insect Problems:  None serious


  • Street or boulevard tree for tough locations
  • Shade trees for parks, campuses, and residential environments

Where to be found on municipal property:  There is a specimen Coffee Tree in Marquand Park in the eastern lawn area, a group of mature specimens is located at the cross street of Riverside Drive and Longview Drive, and there are also a group of Coffee Trees located in the island at the Wawa adjacent to the train station. There is a healthy female Kentucky Coffee tree next to Kopp’s Cycles surrounded by concrete and a compacted parking lot. 

Additional Facts: 

  • Famous horticulturist Michael Dirr describes the Coffee Tree tree as an excellent street tree with a growth habit that provides clearance and one that has an elegant branching structure that becomes better each year. 
    1. “A tree that should be used more, a structure that feels massive like an ancient cathedral, yet its foliage is as elegant as a stained glass window.”
  • The male fruitless cultivar ‘Espresso’ is a tree selected to be planted throughout Witherspoon Street. 
  • Got its name common name from the seeds pods which were roasted to be used as a coffee substitute by early settlers in Kentucky. 
  • Well suited for urban environments
  • Growth appears unaffected by drought and road salt
  • The seeds were used for ceremonial and recreational purposes by Native Americans
  • Leaves are later to emerge in spring
  • In earlier times, the wood was used to make railway sleeper cars
  • Several specimen trees planted at Mt. Vernon
  • State tree of Kentucky until 1976


Dirr, Michael A., Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses, 5th Edition, Stipes Publishing L.L.C., 1998.




Printable Fact Sheet (PDF)





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