KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE

FAMILY: Caesalpiniaceae | GENUS: GYMNOCLADUS dioica

TYPE
  • Deciduous
  • Trees
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Full Sun
WATER
  • Regular Water
PLANTING ZONES
  • US (Upper South) / Zone 6
  • MS (Middle South) / Zone 7
  • LS (Lower South) / Zone 8
SPECIAL FEATURES
  • Poisonous/Toxic

Plant Details

Native to eastern U.S. Grows very fast as a sapling but slows once it hits 810 ft. Give it plenty of room, since it will ultimately reach 60100 ft. tall and 4550 ft. wide. Provides year-round interest, featuring attractive foliage as well as striking branch structure. Leaves are 1123 ft. long, divided into many 1- to 3-in. leaflets; they are pinkish when emerging late in spring, deep bluish green by summer. In leaf, the tree casts light shade. Fall color usually not effective, but foliage sometimes turns bright yellow. The relatively few, heavy, contorted branches and stout twigs make the bare tree picturesque in winter.

Male and female plants are separate. Narrow, creamy to greenish white flower panicles at ends of branches in spring are up to 1 ft. long (and fragrant) on female trees, to 4 in. long on males. Blossoms on female trees are followed by flat, 6- to 10-in.-long, reddish brown pods containing hard black seeds. Pods persist through winter. Early settlers roasted the seeds to make a coffee substitute, hence the tree's common name. (Roasting neutralizes the seeds' toxicity.) Grows best in moist, rich, deep soil but adapts to poor soil, drought, city conditions. Can take much heat and cold. Needs minimal pruning.

Three maleand therefore seedlesskinds are sometimes offered at garden centers; all have potential for use as street trees. 'Espresso' grows to 50 ft. tall, 30 ft. wide, has an attractive spreading form and vase shape. 'Prairie Titan' may reach 6070 ft. tall, 3040 ft wide; it has particularly good-looking foliage. 'J.C. McDaniel' ('Stately Manor') grows in a narrow and upright form, to 50 ft. tall and only 20 ft. wide; good street tree.

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