and Deciduous Forest Trees

of Southern Ontario

Kentucky Coffee Tree
Gymnocladus dioicus

Location in Ontario:
Kentucky Coffee Tree is a Carolinian Tree that grows mostly in Essex County and Lambton County. There is a difference of opinion as to whether Kentucky Coffee Tree ever grew naturally in Norfolk, whichever the case, it is not found naturally now.

COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) Status: Kentucky Coffee Tree is identified as threatened in Canada. This is due to its limited range and loss of habitat.

Row of Kentucky Coffee Trees, Essex County

Genus Gymnocladus: This is a small genus of 3 species, all of which bear legumes as fruit. Leaves are large and doubly compound, meaning leaflets have leaflets! Little information is available about this genus. Kentucky Coffee Tree is the only species of Gymnocladus that grows in North America.

Landscape Use: This medium sized tree makes an excellent lawn specimen with its doubly compound leaves and thick leathery seed pods. The bark is also distinctive.

Habitat: Kentucky Coffee Tree grows along rivers and streams and the edges of swamps and marshes.

Leaves: The leaves have leaflets with leaflets! This is called doubly compound. Leaves come out very late in spring and fall off in the very early autumn.

A single doubly compound leaf 

FALL COLOUR WATCH:  yellow to brown

Size: This medium-sized tree can reach 25 metres. It is short-lived to about 75 years of age.

Bark: The bark is gray with thin scaly ridges.

Flowers: Dioecious, male (pollen) flowers and female (seed) flowers occur on different trees. The flowers are greenish-white with five petals and occur in long clusters. The flowers appear in June.

Left: Flowers, Right: Early seed pods

Fruit: The seeds are in long reddish brown pods (legumes). The seeds are brown, large and round. Fruit appears in summer, and matures by October. Pods hang on the tree over winter.

Seed Production: Seeds are produced after about 20 years of growth, with good seed crops every year.

TREE FACT: This tree is named for its seeds which resemble coffee beans. Early settlers did use the beans for coffee, but soon gave it up as the taste is bitter and unpleasant!

Seeds inside a leathery pod 

Wood: The wood is medium hard and durable. The wood is not often used due to its relative scarcity. It has been used for fence posts. Early settlers used the wood for furniture.
Specific gravity: 0.60
Janka Hardness: 1390 lb
Wood Comparison Chart

Ontario's largest Kentucky Coffee Tree, Simcoe,
Norfolk County