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

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.

COSEWIC: Kentucky Coffee Tree


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

In the Landscape
Kentucky Coffee Tree is a medium-sized tree that can reach 25 metres in height. It is short-lived to about 75 years of age. It makes an excellent lawn specimen with its doubly compound leaves and thick leathery seed pods. The bark is also distinctive.


Kentucky Coffee Trees, University of Guelph Arboretum

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. In the fall, leaves turn yellow to brown.
Bark
The bark is gray with thin scaly ridges.
Flowers
Kentucky Coffee Tree is 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 with the leaves. Flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and Hummingbirds
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. Seeds are produced after about 20 years of growth, with good seed crops every year.

Here is a site with excellent photos of female and male flowers.

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


Row of Kentucky Coffee Trees, Essex County

Kentucky Coffee Tree is not included in the United States Forest Service Silvics Manual.

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