Other Common Names:
The other common names for the Kentucky coffee tree are coffeetree, nicor tree and chicot.
Gymnocladus dioicus is a large tree that gives semi-filtered shade, good for its very bold texture, rapid growth, and Winter-persistent large fruit pods on certain trees; often having an irregular shape in youth, but becoming upright oval to spreading rounded and very majestic in appearance with age.Gymnocladus translates as "naked branch", referring to its deciduous and bold character.Dioicus translates as "dioecious", referring to the predominately male and female tree forms (sometimes alternatively spelled dioica).This species is the state tree of Kentucky. Kentucky coffee tree is well-adapted to urban soil and could be used more often and, like most trees, does best when provided with irrigation until well-established.
The Kentucky coffee tree is a short-trunked tree with narrow, open crown of coarse branches and very large, twice-compound leaves. When crowded by other trees, this species grows tall and slender. If more open-grown, it becomes a round-topped tree. Its unique bark is dark brown and roughened with scale-like ridges in distinct patterns. It leafs out late in spring. The large, twice-compound leaves give the foliage a tropical look. Greenish-white flowers are held in terminal clusters, and the fruit is a purplish-brown pod that remains into winter.
Kentucky coffee tree is usually diocious, meaning that male and female flowers are on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white with 5 petals, and are not particularly showy. The male flowers have 10 stamens and are arranged in elongated clusters 3-4 in long; female flowers have a single pistil and are in elongated clusters 10-12 in long. The flowers appear in May or June and last for a week to 10 days. The pods often persist on the tree through late winter. There have been a few selections named, but the tree is still largely ignored in the horticultural trade. Fall foliage is yellow-green. Kentucky coffee tree grows 75-100 ft. tall.
The Kentucky coffee tree is a native to bottomlands of the Eastern, Midwestern, and Central United States. It grows in bottomlands, ravines, and lower slopes of the Appalachian Mountains from western New York and western Pennsylvania, west to southern Wisconsin, and south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and northern Louisiana.
The Kentucky coffee trees thrives best in full sun to partial sun and generally prefers continuously moist, rich, deep soils in full sun, but is very adaptable and urban tolerant, especially to heat, drought, very alkaline pH soils, soil compaction, and wet sites. Kentucky coffee tree does best in a well drained, rich soil with adequate moisture. However, it can tolerate normal droughts.
Fertilize with formulations that promote woody, strong growth rather than excessive foliar growth. Seed are best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. The seed can also be sown in early spring in a greenhouse. Scarification and pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water, especially if it has been stored, will improve germination. Make sure the seed has swollen after soaking, soak it again if it has not and, if it still does not swell, try filing away some of the seed coat but be careful not to damage the embryo. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into fairly deep individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Consider giving them some protection against the cold for their first couple of winter's outdoors Root cuttings 4cm long and 1cm thick in a greenhouse in December. Plant the roots horizontally in pots. Longer, weaker branches should be pruned when young to promote a stronger structure.
The dioecious male and female flowers are in long branched clusters and are whitish in colour appearing in late spring.
Pests and Diseases
No pests or diseases are of major concern.
The root, bark, leaves and the seeds
are mostly used parts of the tree for
its commercial and medicinal applications.
• Infusions of the roots and bark were used by Native Americans as a laxative.
• The pulverised root bark is used as an effective enema.
• A snuff made from the pulverized root bark has been used to cause sneezing in comatose patients.
• It is used in the treatment of coughs due to inflamed mucous membranes.
• Kentucky coffee tree also aids in speedening up of a protracted labour.
• It is also used in homeopathic medicine.
• The roasted seeds were once used as a coffee substitute.
• The reddish-brown wood makes attractive cabinets, and the fruit pulp has been used in home remedies.
• The fruit contains hich content of saponins and is used in the soap industry.
• Kentucky coffee tree is useful as an urban tree and for street plantings.
• The dark, round shiny seeds also have some aesthetic appeal as beads in rustic jewellery.
• The leaves are also used to poison the flies.
• It is used in cabinet making and fencing.
• The seedpod can be eaten raw or cooked.