Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Society of Municipal Arborists has named the Kentucky coffee tree its 2006 Urban Tree of the Year. The tree won votes from members across the U.S. and Canada with its combination of low maintenance and attractive limbs. According to member Nina Bassuk of Cornell University, “the pods are the only drawback… the tree is quite striking in winter with the gothic appearance of its limb structure.”

This tree is twice pinnately compound with leaves up to three feet long. Each compound leaf is composed of about 70 leaflets.

Kentucky coffee tree grows on a wide variety of sites and soils. It prefers rich, moist soils in floodplains, terraces, ravines, coves, and lower slopes. Its most common associates include maples, ashes, hackberry, black walnut, butternut, honeylocust, and bitternut hickory. On better sites, its growth rate is moderate (1 to 2 feet per year). Kentucky coffee tree is only moderately tolerant of shade and requires openings for successful regeneration. It is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring; new leaves are often tinged with pink as they change to dark green. Fall color for this species is yellow to brown. The seeds used to be used as a substitute for coffee and were called coffee-nuts.

This very rough, coarsely branched tree grows to a height of 40-60 feet with a trunk diameter of 3 feet. The bark is very rough, very light or dark brown, with thin scales. The dull deep green leaves are doubly compound, with about 9 broad oval-shaped leaflets that are pointed and toothless. They are alternate and there is a pair of single leaflets on the base of the main stalk. There are male and female trees, which produce their flowers in white, nodding clusters, and bloom in May to June. The fruit is a broad, leathery, dark brown pod, 4-9 inches long, pulpy inside with several seeds, and stay on in the winter. The seeds used to be used as a substitute for coffee and were called coffee-nuts. Kentucky coffee tree should be used more in the landscape. It will grow on a wide range of soils from limestone, clay, and soils which may be droughty. It is relatively free of insect and disease pests.

The Kentucky coffee tree is found in the St. Louis area in only a handful of locations. If there is sufficient interest in the tree, we will procure some for the upcoming season. Contact us at

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