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TREES & Plants

Kentucky coffeetree

The Kentucky coffeetree's tolerance to pollution and a wide range of soils makes it a suitable tree for urban environments.  Native to the Midwest, this tree bears leathery, reddish-brown seed pods that add winter interest to the Midwestern landscape.

Botanical name: 
Gymnocladus dioicus
All Common Names: 
Kentucky coffeetree
Family (English): 
Pea
Family (Botanic): 
Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Occasional drought
  • Alkaline soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • White
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
Time of Year: 
  • Late spring
More Information: 

Size and Form

50 to 60 feet high and 40 to 50 feet wide; irregular and sparsely branched.

Tree & Plant Care

Transplant in sites with deep, rich, moist soil.
Consider male cultivars to avoid messy fruit.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious pests.
The trees leaves and seeds are poisonous.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of high pH, drought, and pollution.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 8
Native to the Midwest.

Bark color and texture

Bark is dark brown; rough, becoming scaly with curved edges.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Alternate, doubly compound leaves; with numerous leaves; lowest set of leaflets simple.
Leaflets, oval with entire margins and blue green color; mild yellow fall color.
The whole leaf is 36 inches long and 24 inches wide.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Long (8 to 10 inch) spike-like clusters of greenish white flowers; male and female flowers on separate trees.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

5 to 10 inch long, red-brown, leathery pods containing a few large rounded seeds on female trees.
Male trees are seedless.

Cultivars and their differences

Espresso  (Gymnocladus dioicus 'Espresso'):  Arching branches provide a vase-shape; male cultivar.

Prairie Titan™  (Gymnocladus dioicus  ‘J.C McDaniel)’:  An upright, spreading male selection.