How to Grow and Care for Kentucky Coffee Tree

Kentucky Coffee Tree

The Kentucky Coffee Tree is a native species to the central and eastern United States. It gets its name from the fact that early settlers would roast and grind the beans to use as a coffee substitute. The Kentucky Coffee Tree grows best in well-drained, sandy soils, and it prefers full sun. Kentucky Coffee Trees can grow to be quite large, reaching up to 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide.

The trunk is typically straight, with smooth gray bark. The leaves are alternate, pinnate, and dark green in color. The Kentucky Coffee Tree blooms in the spring, with small, yellow-green flowers that are clustered together. The fruit of the Kentucky Coffee Tree is a dark brown pod that contains 2-3 seeds.

Roasted and ground Kentucky Coffee Tree seeds can be used as a coffee substitute, or they can be roasted and eaten as a snack. The wood of the Kentucky Coffee Tree is hard and dense, making it an excellent choice for furniture and woodworking projects.

Kentucky Coffee Tree
Kentucky Coffee Tree

The Kentucky coffee tree (also known as Kentucky coffeetree) got its name for the small brown fruits that emerge from its long cylindrical seed pods that, when they ripen and then dry, resemble coffee beans. It’s also said that Native Americans (particularly the Fox, Winnebago, and Pawnee communities) and early settlers in the Kentucky Territory used to roast the beans to make a hot beverage. However, the raw seed pods are toxic and should be avoided. Wildlife do not eat the seed pods.

Nature scientists speculate that very large prehistoric mammals such as giant sloths and mammoths dispersed the seeds over a wider ranging area. The wood of this tree was once used to build railway sleeper cars. Its habitat range is throughout the central United States, from Pennsylvania to Kentucky and further south to Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

The Kentucky coffee tree grows best in full sun on rich, deep, moist soils but it is also tolerant of light shade and drought conditions. This species commonly reaches 50-60 feet in height with a straight trunk up to 24 inches in diameter. It has an open crown of stout branches that form a broad round-topped head.

The dark green leaves are alternate, simple, and pinnately compound with 9-19 oblong-lanceolate leaflets per leaf. The showy fragrant flowers bloom in May or June just before or at the same time as the new leaves emerge. Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious). The 6-12 inch long fruit ripens in September or October and resembles a miniature dark brown baseball bat. Although not really palatable when eaten raw off the tree due to its astringent taste, the roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute since early pioneer days.

The roasted seeds were ground into a powder and then boiled to make a hot drink that somewhat resembled true coffee. This beverage remained popular during the Civil War era when real coffee was hard to come by due to blockades of southern ports. Consequently, this interesting tree has quite a history both for its usefulness as well as its beauty.

Today it is often seen growing in old home sites and country estates where it was planted long ago as an ornamental shade tree. Some specimens can be found on college campuses across America where they were planted many years ago and have now reached maturity. It is truly one of North America’s handsome native trees that deserves more recognition than it currently receives.

The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a large deciduous tree that is native to the central United States. It is becoming increasingly popular as an ornamental landscape tree due to its impressive size and dramatic foliage. Kentucky coffee trees can grow up to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide, with enormous leaves that can span up to 2 feet in width.

The trees are resistant to drought and tolerant of air pollution, making them well-suited for urban areas. They are also good shade trees, as they leaf out relatively late in spring and produce pale green flowers in panicle-like clusters. Kentucky coffee trees require plenty of space to grow and spread out, so they are best suited for large parks, golf courses, and other open areas.

The Kentucky coffeetree is a medium to large-sized tree that is native to the central and eastern United States. It gets its name from the fact that the beans of the tree were once used as a coffee substitute. The female trees bear flowers said to have a fragrance similar to roses.

The scaly grey bark has a rough texture. The seed pods add more interest in autumn, as do the bare branches that emerge when the tree drops its leaves rather early (the Greek genus name means “naked branch”), after they shift from green to a warm yellow color.

The spreading branches create a bold shape (some call it a perfect “Halloween tree”) in the fall and winter landscape, making this a decorative tree for all seasons. From 1976 until 1994, it was the official state tree of Kentucky, but was then replaced by the Tulip Poplar.

Common NameKentucky coffee tree
Botanical NameGymnocladus dioicus
FamilyFabaceae
Plant TypePerennial deciduous tree
Mature Size65-75 ‘ tall, 40-50’ spread
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeTolerant of clay, likes loam
Soil pHAcidic, alkaline or neutral
Bloom TimeLate spring
Flower ColorGreenish white
Hardiness Zones3-8, USA
Native AreasCentral US, Nebraska to Pennsylvania
ToxicitySeeds are toxic to people

Kentucky Coffee Tree Care

The Kentucky coffee tree is a beautiful, unique plant that can make a wonderful addition to any home. Native to the eastern United States, this hardy tree is relatively easy to care for and can thrive in a wide range of conditions. Here are a few tips on how to give your Kentucky coffee tree the best possible care.

First, be sure to plant your tree in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. Kentucky coffee trees need at least six hours of sunlight each day in order to produce healthy foliage and produce seeds. Secondly, make sure to water your tree regularly. The roots of the Kentucky coffee tree should be kept moist, but not waterlogged. Allow the top layer of soil to dry out slightly between watering. Thirdly, give your tree a yearly feeding with a high-quality fertilizer. This will help to ensure that your tree stays healthy and grows vigorously. Lastly, beware of pests and diseases.

The Kentucky coffee tree is relatively resistant to pests and diseases, but it can occasionally be affected by scale insects or leaf spot. If you notice any problems with your tree, be sure to contact a qualified arborist or landscaper for assistance. By following these simple tips, you can give your Kentucky coffee tree the best possible chance for success.

Light

The Kentucky coffee tree does best with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.

Soil

Adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions, this tree does as well in clay but may thrive a bit better in sandy loam. It isn’t bothered by too much acidity or alkalinity. Being drought-tolerant, it’s also fine in dry spots. Too much wet soil may affect the roots over time, so planting too near a swap or marshy spot is not a good idea.

Water

In times of extended drought, this tree will benefit from some additional watering at its base. But otherwise it’s very drought-tolerant and should not require extra water.

Temperature and Humidity

Kentucky coffee tree isn’t too fussy about temperature or humidity and is very winter hardy. It’s not likely to well in growing zones higher than 8.

Fertilizer

Fertilize the Kentucky coffee tree with fertilizing products that promote woody, strong growth rather than excessive foliage growth. Avoid fertilizing with nitrogen products, since the tree is a nitrogen fixer. (It even works to supply neighboring plants with nitrogen.)

Types of Kentucky Coffee Tree

There are several cultivars available through the nursery trade, most of them male, which do not produce fruit. They therefore produce less pod litter, making them more suitable for smaller urban settings such as streets and small parks.

  • Espresso: This grafted seedless variety is one of the most popular male cultivars available. The arching branches form a vase shape and the compound leaves make it a desirable shade tree.
  • Prairie Titan: This is another male fruitless cultivar with an upright spreading shape. The foliage tends to be more bluish-green than other cultivars.
  • Stately Manor: This male cultivar has a more narrow upright form, but the spread may still reach up to 50 feet wide at maturity.

Pruning

The best time for pruning the Kentucky coffee tree is late winter or early spring, after the worst cold temperatures are no longer a danger. Its slow growth habit means that young trees won’t need any pruning in the first few years, unless the branches become damaged. However, if overly long (thereby weaker) branches develop, these should be pruned when young to promote a stronger structure.

How to Grow Kentucky Coffee Tree From Seed

Kentucky coffee tree is fairly easy to grow from seed. First you must file the seed coating by hand with a small file, and then soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. This will allow for a more rapid germination.

Propagating Kentucky Coffee Tree

This tree is easy to grow from dormant root cuttings from December through March.

Common Problems With Kentucky Coffee Tree

This tree has no real disease or insect problems to worry about. “Leaf litter” can be a problem as the leaves are very large, and the fallen seed pods beginning in spring can also create a bit of a mess. This makes it a better candidate for parks or other open areas rather than as a street tree.

FAQ

    • Though there’s a tendency towards leaf litter, from the very large leaves, male cultivars do not bear seed pods making seasonal clean up much easier.

    • This tree has a fairly slow growth rate, between 12″ and 24″ per year on average.

    • In some cases these trees can live to be 150 years old, but they’re usually considered to have about a 100 year life span, depending on factors such as growing conditions, weather damage, drought, etc.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Graper, David. “Kentucky Coffeetree”. South Dakota State University Extension, 2019,

Disclaimer: Curated and re-published here. We do not claim anything as we translated and re-published using google translator. All images and Tattoo Design ideas shared only for information purpose.

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