The Kentucky Coffeetree -(Gymnocladus dioicus) - is a deciduous medium sized tree with large, coarse, wide hanging pods that are red-brown when ripe. It is best distinguished by it's large leaflets, large flowers, scaly bark and inflated fruit. At maturity it can reach 18-30 m tall and grows in an erect single trunked, with a low branching habit. The crown of the Kentucky Coffeetree is usually narrow or broad, pyramidal or rounded in shape. It is a member of the Fabaceae (Bean) Family and included in the very small Gymnoclaudus genus which only contains 2 species (the other is native to China).
The leaves are large up to 30 inches long, divided into pairs of opposite side stalks with 6-14 oval leaflets on each stalk. The flowers are greenish-white growing in large upright clusters at the ends of each twig. The bark is a reddish brown that becomes gray and irregularly fissured with age. The twigs are stout and reddish brown in color and hairy only when immature. The fruit is a tough, hard, inflated, red to brown woody legume that ranges in size from 15-25 cm long and 4-5 cm broad. Each woody legume contains 4-7 seeds that are hard coated and nearly round in shape.
The Kentucky Coffeetree grows in moist places, floodplains, riverbanks, bases of ravines and valleys. It is found in the Central and Eastern United States from New York and Massachusetts in the North, North Dakota in the West, Georgia, Alabama and Eastern Texas in the South. It is naturalized and planted as an ornamental further East. It grows best in rich, light soils. This species is unusually free of fungus, parasites and insect infestations. It is recorded that early settlers roasted the fruit of the Coffeetree for use as a coffee substitute, this is believed to be a possible origin of it's common name.
Image Citations (photos 1, 2 & 3): Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org (Node Affiliation: International Society of Arboriculture)
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