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.
- 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.
- “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.