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     Latin name: Gymnocladus dioicus
Common name: Kentucky Coffee Tree

Summer habit - 80 year old tree Kentucky coffee tree Although the winter habit of the Kentucky coffee tree is very course, it can be an attractive tree in the summer. It is one of the last to leaf out in the spring. The Kentucky coffee tree can be a tall tree, reaching a possible height of 100 feet.

bipinnately compound leaves of Kentucky coffee treeThe leaves of the Kentucky coffee tree are bipinnately compound. Leaves attach alternately to a rachilla and the rachilla attach alternately to the central rachis. There are many leaflets which are pointed and not toothed. The major leaves end with a fork of two compound. The leaves may be 3 feet long.

winter branches of Kentucky coffee treeThe winter branches of the Kentucky coffee tree appear very course. The tree is dormant for 6 months out of the year and is one of the last to sprout leaves. This leads to "dead" appearance once surrounding trees are covered with leaves.

bark and accession tag of Kentucky Coffee Tree The bark of the Kentucky coffee tree is dark brown and deeply furrowed.

greenish-white flowers of Kentucky Coffee Tree, larger photo shows many more flowers Flowers of the Kentucky coffee tree appear along with the leaves in May or June. They are present on both male and female trees. The flowers have a whitish green color but may appear as burgundy colored prior to opening.

seed pods on Kentucky coffee tree on late summer The Kentucky coffee tree - Gymnocladus dioicus is a member of the legume (pea) family. Although flowers appear on both male and female trees, only the female trees bear fruit.

Winter picture of Kentucky Coffee Tree with rachis remaining on tree The Kentucky coffee tree may be quite messy as it drops leaflets, leaves, seed pods and rachis at various times of they year. The above photo showing rachi was taken in early April, 2004.

picture of Kentucky coffee tree seed pod split open to display seeds The seeds and surrounding pulp of the Kentucky coffee tree are toxic to humans and livestock. The seeds may be safe if they are cooked properly and were reportedly used to make a coffee substitute by pioneers.

Most of the pictures were taken on the west side of Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois at parking 18.

I was facinated by the tree at the beginning of the entrance road to the parking lot and took many pictures during the spring and summer. The tree was full of flowers and I waited and watched for the fruit, which never appeared. At the end of summer, I discovered that all of this time I had been parking directly in front of another Kentucky Coffee Tree which DID bear fruit and I had never noticed.

Dioecious (male and female on separate trees), greenish-white with tinges of burgundy. appear in late May to early June.
alternate, binpinnately compound. May reach length of 36". 3-7 pairs of pinnae with 6-14 leaflets each. Lower leaves usually simple. One of the last trees to leaf in Midwest.
Terminal is absent. Laterals are small, pubescent and sunken into the twig.
Leaf color:
Green in summer, yellow in fall
Reddish brown to dark brown leathery pod. Pulp is green in fall and winter, but those that I opened in Spring had golden pulp. Pods may remain on tree through the winter. The Kentucky Coffee Tree is native to the midwestern and eastern United States.

Kingdom: Plantae -- Plants
  Subkingdom: Tracheobionta -- Vascular plants
   Superdivision: Spermatophyta -- Seed plants
    Division: Magnoliophyta -- Flowering plants
     Class: Magnoliopsida -- Dicotyledons
      Subclass: Rosidae
       Order Fabales
        Family Fabaceae -- Pea family
         Genus Gymnocladus Lam. -- coffeetree P
          Species Gymnocladus dioicus (L.) K. Koch -- Kentucky coffeetree P

Source for classification listing: USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Karren Wcisel © copyright 2000 - 2004

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