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Kentucky Coffeetree

Scientific Name:

Gymnocladus dioicus




Temperate forests


Eastern and Midwestern United States and Southern Canada; cultivated elsewhere


Vulnerable (IUCN Red List)

This species is


to the Truckee Meadows.


Kentucky coffeetrees are hardy trees that can grow up to 60 to 75 feet tall. These trees have bipinnately compound leaves, meaning that each leaf is divided into multiple leaflets which are then themselves further subdivided into even smaller leaflets. Kentucky coffeetrees have 5- to 10-inch long seed pods that start out green in color before changing to brown. Their flowers, which are greenish-white and grow in pyramid-shaped clusters, develop between late May and early June.

Fast Facts:

  • While Kentucky coffeetrees are cultivated and planted around the country, including here in the Truckee Meadows, they are highly threatened in their native range of eastern North America. The trees are heavily over-harvested and now only exist in fragmented populations.

  • Early white settlers to North America used the beans of Kentucky coffeetrees as a substitute for coffee beans, a practice which gave the trees their name. However, both the seeds and seed pods are POISONOUS and should never be consumed.

  • No animals are known to eat Kentucky coffeetree seeds or seed pods, and the seeds are too heavy to be dispersed by wind. This lack of easy seed dispersion may account for the trees' relative rareness.



Haley McGuire (research & content)

Alex Shahbazi (edits & page design)

Last Updated:

April 21, 2021 at 12:00:55 AM

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