Kentucky coffee tree, gymnocladus dioica, is a deciduous tree grown widely in the Midwest. Find facts and information on Kentucky coffee trees, along with growing and caring tips.
Kentucky Coffee Tree Facts
The Kentucky coffee tree has blue-green leaves and reddish-brown seedpods with dark brown seeds within. The seed pods of this deciduous tree contains a toxin, cytisine, which can cause respiratory problems to becoming fatal in large doses.
This coffee tree grows in Zones (3) 4-8 and reaches 55’-65' h x 35'-45’ w. It has a rounded form and a medium texture. You will also find it suitable as a shade tree or as a specimen tree. It is a good replacement for the disease-prone honeylocust tree. Gymnocladus dioica has large compound leaves that casts a light shade that permits shade-tolerant turfgrass and part-shade perennials to grow underneath. The leaves orient themselves parallel to the sun’s rays and are an attractive dark green or blu-green.
The trees are late to leaf out in spring. The fall color is not consistent, but it sometimes produces a nice yellow color. Female trees produce fragrant flowers in spring which are followed by seeds in chunky, leathery dark reddish-brown pods.
This species prefers deep, moist, rich soil for best growth but is adaptable to many soils and is tolerant of drought, pollution, and high soil pH. It is slow to become established, and may loose its leaves for the first half of year of its life. The tree may look dead, but it is not, so don’t panic. The coarse branching of the coffee tree is picturesque in winter.
Kentucky Coffee Tree Care
This tree is difficult to transplant because of the deep taproot that it has. You can plant smaller balled-and-burlapped, or container specimens in early spring. Water the young trees when the top 2” of soil is dry. Prune to shape young trees in late winter or early spring.
Pull the occasional suckers that may appear. You may find that the large compound leaves may be a litter problem when they fall. Some people consider the persistent fruits to be ornamental in winter.
Propagation is done by sowing seeds in place in the fall. Scarification will also aid in germination.
Pests and Diseases: There are no serious problems to be noted with this tree.
Related Species of Kentucky Coffeetree
‘Espresso’ is a fruitless male selection with upward-arching branches in a vaselike form.
Prairie Titan has an upright spreading form that has a good summer leaf color and an interesting winter form.