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Kentucky CoffeetreeGymnocladus dioicus

  • Kentucky Coffeetree - Gymnocladus dioicus
Drought-resistant. Tolerant of pollution. Adaptable to a variety of soils. With its reputation as a tough species, the Kentucky coffeetree is an excellent choice for parks, golf courses, and other large areas. It is also widely used as an ornamental or street tree.

The tree’s picturesque profile stands out in all seasons and can be attributed to a unique growth habit of coarse, ascending branches that often form a narrow crown. Tree expert Michael Dirr pointed out that there are “certainly no two exactly alike.”

Hardiness Zones

The kentucky coffeetree can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 3–8. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree. It features a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The Kentucky coffeetree grows to a height of 60–75' and a spread of 40–50' at maturity.

Growth Speed Slow to Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a slow to medium rate, with height increases of anywhere from less than 12" to 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree, meaning it should get at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The Kentucky coffeetree grows in in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well-drained, wet and clay soils. While it tolerates wet soil, it has extreme drought tolerance.


This tree:
  • Produces pyramidal clusters of greenish-white flowers that bloom at the same time leaves are maturing (late May to early June). The flowers of the female trees have a rose-like fragrance.
  • Features bipinnately compound leaves that can reach up 36" in length and 24" in width. Individual leaflets are only about 2" long.
  • Is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring.
  • Yields seed pods that are 5–10" long and green in color, turning brown, that persist through the winter.
  • Tolerates drought and pollution.
  • Grows in an oval or rounded shape.

Wildlife Value

Sources disagree on which parts of the seed pods are edible. The seed pulp is reportedly toxic to cattle.


The Kentucky coffeetree is native to the central states of America from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and from Minnesota to Oklahoma. This tree gets its name because early Kentucky settlers noticed the resemblance of its seeds to coffee beans. In earlier times, its wood was used in the construction of railway sleeper cars.