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Kentucky Coffeetree – Gymnocladus dioicus

Usually a short-trunked tree with narrow, open crown of coarse branches and very large leaves.

Height: 70’ / Diameter: 2’

Leaves: bipinnately compound; 12-30” long. Ovate; without teeth; pink when unfolding, becoming nearly hairless. Dull green above, paler beneath; turning yellow in autumn.

Bark: gray; thick, deeply furrowed into narrow scaly ridges.

Flowers: greenish-white and hairy, in large upright terminal clusters. Usually male and female on separate trees in late spring.

Fruit: 4-7” long; dark red-brown pod; thick-walled; hanging on stout stalks.

Habitat: moist soils of valleys with other hardwoods. Found in Midwestern US, but naturalized eastward.

The roasted seeds were once used as a coffee substitute; raw seeds, however, are poisonous. The reddish-brown woods makes attractive cabinets, and the fruit pulp has been used in home remedies. Scattered or rare in the wild, this species is planted as an ornamental for the very large leaves and for the stout twigs which are bare except in summer. As the leaves develop late in spring and shed early, the leafless trees often appear to be dead. The generic name, form Greek, means “naked branch.”

 

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