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Gymnocladus dioicus

Pronunciation: Jim-no-klad-us dy-oh-ee-kus
Family: Fabaceae/leguminosae
Common Name: Kentucky coffee tree
Plant Type:
  • trees, shrubs
Height to: 100'
USDA Hardiness Zones:
  • -10 to -20ºF ZONE 5
  • 0 to -10ºF ZONE 6
  • 10 to 0ºF ZONE 7
  • 20 to 10ºF ZONE 8
Sun Exposure:
  • full sun
Bloom Description: Greenish white with 5 petals, and are not particularly showy. The male flowers have 10 stamens and are arranged in elongated clusters 3-4 in (7. 6-10. 2 cm) long; female flowers have a single pistil and are in elongated clusters 10-12 in (25. 4-30. 5 cm) long.
Soil Type: Moist, well drained, rich
Plant Perks:
  • Fall Foliage
  • Drought Tolerant
Propagation: Seeds can be sown in fall in containers and left outdoors. The hard seed coat should be nicked with a file or sharp knife before planting. Cultivars are propagated from root cuttings taken in winter.
Native to: Midwestern north america
Notes for Identification:

Source: floridata - kentucky coffee tree is a medium sized tree with very large twice compound (bipinnate) deciduous leaves and a narrow oval or rounded crown. It normally grows 60-70 ft (18. 3-21. 3 m) in height, although it can get up to 100 ft (30. 5 m) tall. It has a straight trunk with ascending branches. The leaves are up to 3 ft (0. 9 m) long and 2 ft (0. 6 m) wide, developing quite late in spring and dropping rather early in fall. The leaflets are oval, 2-3 in (5. 1-7. 6 cm) long, and rather widely spaced along the rachis. The leaflets turn yellow and drop in fall, leaving the bare midribs hanging on the twigs for several weeks longer. The bark is dark gray-brown and furrowed into narrow scaly ridges which often project to one side. The branches are stout and asymmetrical and the twigs are noticeably thick with orange colored lenticels (raised dots on the twigs that facilitate gas exchange). Kentucky coffee tree is usually diocious, meaning that male and female flowers are on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white with 5 petals, and are not particularly showy. The male flowers have 10 stamens and are arranged in elongated clusters 3-4 in (7. 6-10. 2 cm) long; female flowers have a single pistil and are in elongated clusters 10-12 in (25. 4-30. 5 cm) long. The flowers appear in may or june and last for a week to 10 days. The dark reddish brown legumes are hard and woody, 5-10 in (12. 7-25. 4 cm) long and about 2 in (5. 1 cm) wide. Inside, the hard, shiny brown seeds are surrounded by a dark brown sticky pulp. The pods often persist on the tree through late winter. There have been a few selections named, but the tree is still largely ignored in the horticultural trade. Kentucky coffee tree is a moderately fast growing tree that should reach 20 in (6. 1 m) in height after 15 years; 50 ft (15. 2 m) in 40 years; and 70 ft (21. 3 m) at maturity, around 60 years. It will grow in acidic or alkaline soils that are moderately moist or even fairly dry. Kentucky coffee tree is usually cultivated as a specimen tree for its huge leaves in summer, its autumn color, and its bold and picturesque winter form, characterized by stout, asymmetrical branches. It is well suited as a lawn tree because it is attractive in all seasons and casts only light shade in summer. Kentucky coffee tree is useful as an urban tree and for street plantings since it is very 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 the trade. This is a handsome north american native tree that deserves to be more widely used. The reddish brown wood is hard and durable and very attractive when finished and polished. It is used in cabinet making. Early settlers made a coffee substitute from the roasted seeds. Infusions of the roots and bark were used by native Americans as a laxative.  

Seed photo: 1
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