Feature species: Kentucky coffeetree

Credit: Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org

Scientific name: Gymnocladus dioicus

Native to: Hardwood region west of the Appalachians (includes Wisconsin)

Mature Height*: 50’-70’

Spread*: 30’-50’

Form: large upright oval to rounded tree, has irregular course outline in winter

Growth Rate*: slow to medium

Foliage: very large bipinnately compound leaves 17”-36”, individual leaflets are 1”-2” long and pointed

Fall color: yellow

Flowers: whitish, clustered, appearing May-June

Fruit: female trees produce chunky, dark brown flattened pods, 2”-10” long and 1½” wide, September-winter

Bark: dark with unique scaly ridges

Site Requirements: prefers fertile loam soil with ample moisture, but has been known to grow in heavier soils; tolerates alkaline soil and urban environments; salt tolerant; full sun; transplant B&B in spring

Hardiness zone: 3b

Insect & Disease Problems: no serious problems

Suggested Applications: street tree, wildland, native parks

Limitations: fruit is sometimes viewed as a nuisance (female trees only; male cultivars are available)

Comments: initially it can be hard to win over the public’s approval, because of its ugly duckling and sparse appearance when young; with age the tree becomes oval to round and broadens; the mature form, bark, and pods add nice winter interest.

Cultivars: ‘Espresso,’ Prairie TitanTM, and ‘Stately Manor’ (all three are male and therefore seedless)

Fun fact: Settlers used to roast the seeds, grind them and use them as a substitute for coffee beans. (Seeds are poisonous if eaten raw.)

*Urban tree size and growth rate vary considerably and are strongly controlled by site conditions.

 

(This is an updated version of an article written by DNR Urban Forestry Coordinator Don Kissinger for the urban forestry newsletter in 1994. Don thanked the city foresters of Stevens Point, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Wauwatosa, and Waukesha for the information.)

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