Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Kentucky Coffeetree

Kentucky Coffeetree

Gymnocladus dioicus

Full sun; medium to moderately dry moisture level; prefers deep, rich loam but tolerates a range of soils including sandy loams and silty clays; neutral to slightly alkaline pH.

60-75 feet height by 40-50 feet spread; greenish white flowers to yellow green flowers on male and female trees; female trees produce purple-brown, leathery, bean-like pods 5-10 inches long in October.

Growth Rate: Slow; can be medium in youth.

Maintenance: No serious insect or disease problems. Occasional root suckers should be pulled. Prune in winter or early spring.

Propagation: Easy from seed. Scratch the outer coat with a hand file before planting.

Native Region: Concentrated in Middle Tennessee and the Mississippi River Valley

Large canopy tree with a picturesque, contorted branching habit. Vertically ascending branches form a narrow crown that is broadest at the top. Shallow furrowed bark with narrow ridges curling outwards along the vertical margin. Casts light, filtered shade which allows healthy plants to grow underneath. Flowers are open, loose, pyramidal clusters 3-4 inches long. Each pod contains a handful of very hard, ¾ inch seeds about the color of coffee. Common name comes from the fact seeds were used by early settlers in Kentucky as a coffee substitute. Pulp that surrounds the seed within the leathery pods contains a nerve toxin that can make both humans and cattle ill if eaten. Needs at least 6 hours of mid-day sun to perform well. Fairly uncommon in the wild, preferring river bottoms rich with alluvial silt deposits but is still adaptable to drought, heat and city conditions. Cultivars available.

Attracts bees and is larval host to several species of moths.

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