Kentucky Coffee-tree Gymnocladus dioicus

Introduced to the UK in 1748, it is a native of eastern and central USA where it can be found in floodplains and river valleys, but is also sometimes seen on rocky hillsides and limestone woods. It is rather scarce in collections here. It can grow to 20m with a spread of 15m. It can look like a dead tree as no sign of buds appear until almost all other trees are in leaf! The bark is dark grey and deeply fissured with a scaly surface.

Kentucky Coffee Tree foliage
Kentucky Coffee Tree leaf

The leaves, which are borne alternately on the stem, are impressive being doubly pinnate and up to 1m long! They emerge bright bink before turning green then, in the autumn, they turn bright yellow. The young twigs have a characteristic white bloom. The flowers, which are dioecious (male and female on diffent trees) are rarely seen in the UK and therefore so too are the fruits which comprise waxy seeds in a 25cm long pod. They were once roasted to make a very poor coffee; they are poisonous if eaten raw.

At Keele : one in the Special Collection below the Walled Garden; compartment 24; square K10.

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