Casey’s Tree of the Month: Kentucky Coffeetree

Congrats to Casey, recipient of the “True Professionals Award” from the International Society of Arboriculture. The award recognizes “deserving arborists, their best practices, and the success they have had in relating to their communities, clients, colleagues and employees.” Well done!

It may be a difficult tree to find, but the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is definitely worth the effort.  It’s a medium to large tree, growing up to 80 ft with a spreading canopy.

Of course it takes time for a tree to get that big. And when it’s first planted, the coffeetree may look silly because of the absence of small twigs. If I had a nickel for every time I received a phone call saying, “You just planted a dead tree in front of my house,” I could go buy that iced coffee I need right now.

This reaction is compounded by the fact that the coffeetree can start shedding its leaves in late summer and may be bare for up to half the year. Subsequently this the perfect tree to provide shady relief in the summer while letting the sun warm your house in autumn and winter.  The coffeetree is also a well-suited species for an urban environment because it seems unaffected by heat, cold, drought, insects, disease, road salt, ice, and alkaline soil.

The Kentucky coffeetree gets its name from the seeds that were once used to make a substitute for caffeine-free coffees. Caution must be taken, however, because the uncooked seeds can be toxic to humans and other animals.  But when prepared properly it can yield a smoky chickory-esqe brew or spread. Check out this yummy recipe from Habeas Brûlée.

Some landscapers view the seed pods as a nuisance and therefore select trees that are dioecious males. (Dioecious species are those that bear male and female flowers on separate plants.) With the male tree you avoid the pesky seed pods, but if you suffer from allergies, beware! The male trees contain all the pollen while the females are pollen-free.

Finally, in case you were wondering, the coffeetree is not the state tree of Kentucky. The tulip poplar receives that distinction, but I’m sure this tree-of-the-month came in a close second!

5 thoughts on “Casey’s Tree of the Month: Kentucky Coffeetree

    • Thanks for your comment! I haven’t had a chance to go out and look, but try using the Philly Tree Key to help identify the trees. You can then enter them into the wonderful new PhillyTreeMap! Currently, a search on the PhillyTreeMap does not contain any Kentucky Coffee Trees, so whoever is the first person to find a Kentucky Coffee Tree and correctly enter it into the PhillyTreeMap gets a super cool Tree Tenders T-Shirt! Let the games begin.

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