25 Kentucky Coffee Tree Facts

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
  1. Native Americans of the Great Lakes region utilized Kentucky Coffee Tree for food, medicine, and in their recreational and ceremonial practices.

2. Flowing water serves as the tree’s only active seed dispersal agent

3. George Washington’s diaries from the late 1700’s contain the first known account of the name “coffee tree” being used.

4. The tree’s hard seeds, similar in color to coffee beans, can be roasted and brewed into a menial substitute for coffee.

5. Long ago, land developers advertised Kentucky as a place where a tree grew with beans that could be roasted and brewed to make a fine coffee substitute. Although drinkable, settlers quickly switched to real coffee when it became available.

6. Kentucky Coffee Tree is a threatened species today because seeds will not germinate without being scarred.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

7. Squirrels do not gather the seeds so they only travel from the mother tree by running water.

8. Before humans arrived in North America, it is likely that the seeds were eaten by huge now-extinct animals such as mammoths.

9. The seeds can be dangerous if consumed and must be roasted at 150 degrees F for at least 3 hours to be safe for human consumption.

10. There have been many reports of the seeds falling into water and poisoning fish and livestock.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

11. It is thought that hunting tribes put large quantities of the seeds into rivers in order to stupefy fish and make them easy to catch.

12. Over 130 tribes used Kentucky Coffee beans as dice in various games.

13. They were also used in shakers and rattles as part of music making.

14. Beans were also used as beads in jewelry.

15. Although rarely used industrially, Kentucky coffee trees are rot resistant and occasionally used in the U.S. for railway ties, fence-posts, and in construction.

16. The leaf of Kentucky Coffee Tree is doubly compound and by far the largest of any native tree.

17. These days, they are frequently planted as a landscape tree due to their tolerance of urban conditions.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

18. The tree reproduces frequently by root sprouts forming colonies.

19. The bark has thin scaly edges curling outward along their edges.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

20. Kentucky Coffee Trees grow up to about 25 m in height.

21. Up to 60 cm in diameter.

22. Can live to be about 75 years old.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

23. The Latin name is Gymnocladus dioicus

24. “dioicus means “two dwellings”. The male and female flowers are on separate trees.

25. “Gymnocladus” means “naked branch”. The huge leaves descend later in spring meaning that the tree is “naked” or bare for 6 months a year.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Miles Hearn

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