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Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky coffeetree)
Smith, R.W.

Gymnocladus dioicus

Gymnocladus dioicus (L.) K. Koch

Kentucky Coffeetree, Stump Tree

Fabaceae (Pea Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Usually 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 gives 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. Fall foliage is yellow-green. Kentucky coffeetree grows 75-100 ft. tall.

This species has by far the largest leaves of any native tree in Canada. It is often used in landscaping well beyond its natural range because it transplants easily and can tolerate urban conditions (Kershaw). The roasted seeds were once used as a coffee substitute; raw seeds, however, are poisonous. The reddish-brown wood makes attractive cabinets, and the fruit pulp has been used in home remedies. Scattered or rare in the wild, this species is planted an 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, from Greek, means "naked branch." Its native range comprises much of eastern North America, from Georgia in the southeast to Oklahoma in the west, north to southwestern Ontario, where it is listed as a threatened species by Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA). It apparently becomes less common in the northern reaches of its range, as it is also listed as Endangered in the state of New York, though populations appear safe in the remainder of its US range.


From the Image Gallery

11 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Fruit Type: Legume
Size Notes: Up to about 100 feet tall.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Red, Brown

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Jun


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , ND , NE , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: NY to s. Ont, s. MI, s. MN & Missouri R. region of NE & SD, s. to VA, n. AL, AR & OK; naturalizing elsewhere
Native Habitat: Floodplains; moist woods; lower slopes

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Drought Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Deep, rich, moist sandy loams or silty clays.
Conditions Comments: Kentucky coffee tree is resistant to disease and insect problems and adaptable to drought, chalk, heat, cold, salt and city conditions. The tree is slow-growing. Occasional root suckers should be pulled. Prune in winter or early spring. Wood may be somewhat brittle. Its light, filtered shade encourages healthy turf.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Bicolored honey locust moth
(Sphingicampa bicolor)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Bisected honey locust moth
(Sphingicampa bisecta)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Reproduce with root cuttings or scarified seed.
Seed Treatment: Scarify in concentrated sulfuric acid for 4-6 hours. For small quantities of seed, filing through the outer seed coat with a hand file will give satisfactory results.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 1258 - Trees of Ontario (2007) Kershaw, Linda

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Gymnocladus dioicus in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Gymnocladus dioicus in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Gymnocladus dioicus


Record Modified: 2016-01-06
Research By: TWC Staff

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