Kentucky Coffee Tree

Gymnocladus dioicus (L.) K. Koch – Fabaceae – legume family

Kentucky coffee tree is native to southern Michigan.  It is an uncommon street tree in Albion, but is not as rare as we initially thought.  Most of the trees we’ve encountered are of the age to have been planted when Sue Crawford Rieske was the city’s urban forester.

This species has large twice-pinnately-compound leaves, which means that the leaves have leaflets that have leaflets.  It is dioecious, which means that there are separate pollen-flower “male” and seed-flower “female” plants.  The seed plants have thick brown pods (legumes) about six inches long, which stay on the tree a long time. Inside, the pods have dark seeds and a greenish sweet pulp.

Kentucky coffee tree reportedly gets its common name from Kentucky settlers who roasted and ground the seeds to use as a coffee substitute.  The drink made from these seeds might not be good for your long-term health!