Scientific Name: Gymnocladus dioicus
Origin: Midwest and Upper South US
Why is it called Kentucky Coffeetree? No one knows the truth, but there are two popular theories:
- Pioneers or Civil War soldiers roasted the beans and ground them as a coffee substitute
- A person who found the tree in Kentucky thought the shiny brown beans looked like coffee beans
Common Names: Kentucky Coffeetree, Coffeetree
Mature Height: 60-75 feet
Mature Width/Spread: 40-50 feet
Leaves: Bipinnate alternate compound leaves 12-36 inches long with three to eight side stalks that have 6-14 pairs of oval leaflets that are 1-3 inches long. The leaflets are ovoid-elliptical with a rounded base and a pointed tip. The top of the leaves are green, the undersurface is a paler green.
In the fall, the leaves become: Yellow
Flowers? Yes. Five greenish to white petals with narrower sepals in between. Usually blossoms in June.
Historical tidbit: There are several Kentucky Coffeetrees at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington
Did you know …
- the Meskwaki Native Americans, also known as the Fox tribe because of their association with the Fox River in Eastern Wisconsin, drank the roasted ground seeds in a hot beverage similar to coffee. The common name “coffeetree” derives from this latter use of the roasted seeds, which was imitated by settlers because it seemed a substitute for coffee, especially in times of poverty. The European colonialists, however, considered it inferior to “real” coffee.
- eating this plant should be avoided since it contains the alkaloid cytisine which could be toxic.
- Kentucky Coffeetrees grow 24 to 36 inches in height each year.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Photos courtesy of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Tree species information from http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/trees
PAGE INFORMATION WAS COMPILED AS PART OF NOAH WERNING’S 2020 EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT.