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The Kentucky coffeetree’s tolerance to pollution and a wide range of soils makes it a suitable tree for urban environments. Native to the Midwest, this tree bears leathery, reddish-brown seed pods that add winter interest to the Midwestern landscape. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Pea
  • Family (botanic) Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Restricted sites, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 60-75 feet
  • Mature width 40-50 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest late spring, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, White
  • Shape or form Irregular, Oval
  • Growth rate Slow
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Messy fruit/plant parts
  • Has cultivars Yes

More Information

Native Geographic Location and Habitat

C-Value: 8. Native to the Midwest and often found along streams and in flood plains.

Bark Color and Texture

Bark is dark brown and rough, becoming scaly with curved edges.

Leaf Arrangement, Size, Shape, Texture, and Color

Leaves are  alternate, bipinnately compound  with numerous leaflets and measure 36 inches in length and 24 inches in width. The lowest set of leaflets is simple. Leaflets are oval with entire margins, blue-green in color and with a mild yellow fall color.

Flower Arrangement, Shape, and Size

Flowers are long, spike-like clusters of greenish-white flowers measuring 8 to 10 inches in length. Male and female flowers are on separate trees.

Fruit, Nut, and Seed Descriptions

Fruits on the female trees are 5 to 10 inch long, red-brown, leathery pods containing a few large rounded seeds. Male trees are seedless.

Care Knowledge

Plant Care

The Kentucky coffeetree should be transplanted to sites with deep, rich, moist soil, although they will tolerate urban soils. Consider male cultivars to avoid messy fruit.

List of Pests, Diseases, Problems, Resistance and Tolerances

No serious pests are associated with this tree. Its leaves and seeds are poisonous, however. It is tolerant of high pH, drought, and pollution.


These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Espresso Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Espresso’)

Is a male cultivar with arching branches forming a vase-shape.

Prairie Titan® Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus  ‘J.C McDaniel’):

Another male cultivar with an upright, spreading form.

Skinny Latte Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Morton’)

Almost columnar in shape, but slightly wider at the base, this male cultivar matures to 50 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.

Stately Manor Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Stately Manor’):

A male cultivar with a more narrow, upright form.


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