KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE Gymnocladus dioicus

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The Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a tree native to the Midwest, Upper South, Appalachia, and small pockets of New York in the United States and Ontario in Canada.

The Kentucky coffeetree is a moderately fast-growing tree, and male trees are often grown in parks and along city streets for ornamental purposes. It is considered well-suited to urban environments, as it is tolerant of poor soils, has extreme drought tolerance, and is not vulnerable to serious insect infestations or disease problems. It is cultivated by specialty tree plant nurseries as an ornamental tree for planting in gardens and parks. The peculiarly late-emerging and early-dropping leaves, coupled with the fact that the large leaves mean few twigs in the winter profile, make it a tree that is ideal for urban shading where winter sunlight is to be maximized (such as in proximity to solar hot-air systems).

The Kentucky coffeetree is considered a rare tree species. It is widely distributed, but rare. The tree's native range is limited, occurring from Southern Ontario, Canada and in the United States from Kentucky (where it was first encountered by Europeans) and Connecticut in the east, to Kansas, eastern Nebraska, and southeastern South Dakota in the west, to southern Wisconsin and Michigan in the north, and to northern Louisiana in the south. It is planted as an urban shade tree across the United States and eastern Canada, including California. It has a disjunct population in Central New York.

From 1976 to 1994, the Kentucky coffeetree was the state tree of Kentucky, after which the tulip poplar was returned to that designation.

It is often planted because of its unique appearance and interesting character. There are several Kentucky coffeetrees at Mount Vernon, in the gardens along the path leading up to the house of George Washington.

Trees prefer a rich moist soil, such as bottom lands. Their growth is largely unaffected by heat, cold, drought, insects, disease, road salt, ice, and alkaline soil. Kentucky coffeetree is easy to grow from seed. Filing the seedcoat by hand with a small file, and then soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours will ensure rapid germination.

Note: The unroasted pods and seeds are toxic.

Hardiness zones: 3-8

Seeds per pack: 2 Large seeds

Germination: Kentucky coffee tree is fairly easy to grow from seed. File the seed coating by hand with a small file. Then soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. Place the seeds just under the surface of the soil. Germination should occur in 2-4 weeks. If no germination occurs and the seeds are still firm, they may need to be filed more to allow water to penetrate. Another method is to pour boiling water over them, and then let them soak for 24 hours. We suggest the file method first.


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