Kentucky Coffeetree

Scientific Name
Gymnocladus dioicus

Native to North America, probably originally found in forest of central states, but was introduced to the south and southeastern U.S. by Native Americans.

Prefers moist soils in bottom-land woodlands or rocky open wooded hillsides. Often found associated with other hardwood trees. Thrives in areas with limestone soils and is rarely seen in areas that have been glaciated. Relatively hardy in Zones 3-8. Adapts well to urban conditions. Prefers full sun, rich humus & moist soils and is somewhat drought tolerate.

Growth Nature
The Kentucky Coffeetree is a fast growing tree, reaching 12 to 14 ft. in about 10 years. Overall this species can reach a height of 60 to 100 ft. with a spread of 39 to 50 ft. Its wood is very hard. The coffeetree generally has a short stump which splits into many bare branches, in fact the genus name gymnocladus is Greek for “naked branch”.

Points of interest

  • The Kentucky Coffeetree is prized for its hard wood which has been used for cabinet work, fine furniture, interior finishes, door and window sills, fence posts and rails.
  • This species is also used as an ornamental landscape plant. In winter its large pods rattle in the wind creating interest in the winter garden.
  • Native Americans used the plant for a variety of things. Pulp was believed to be treatment for everything from headaches, combating fevers, to use as a laxative and even to treat insanity.
  • The Omahas mixed the bark of the tree with gay feather and part of a pulverized buffalo-gourd and used it as an appetizer and a tonic.
  • Early settlers reportedly roasted the beans (seeds) to use as a substitute for coffee.
  • Many parts of the plant are considered to be poisonous and apparently the roasting helps decrease the toxic nature of these parts.
  • Coffeetrees have no serious problems when it comes to insects or disease issues.