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.
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.