Kentucky Coffee Tree

Kentucky coffee tree © 2012 Beth Billstrom

This past weekend I worked the Master Gardener Help Desk at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum with the always entertaining Flossie Flinicum, a fellow Carver-Scott County Master Gardener and my mentor.  Between tales of Flossie’s exotic excursions (India, Croatia, and a much-anticipated trip to attend the Netherland’s Floriade) we fielded questions on heirloom tomatoes, grapes one can ACTUALLY grow in Minnesota, and lots of discussion about trees.

Kentucky coffee tree foliage © 2012 Beth Billstrom

Throughout the morning the native Kentucky coffee tree generated a lot of interest!  If you’ve seen one before, you know why.  The arching Kentucky coffee tree is lovely and functional.  It grows well in urban and wooded locations and may be planted in full-sun or partial shade.  This tree is large enough to provide a shady oases on a hot summer’s day (expected height 50-70′  and spread 20-50′) but won’t take over your landscape.  It also sports a unique bluish-green foliage that turns a deep yellow in fall.  What more could you want?  Well, its most memorable characteristic is the coffee colored seed pods which dangle delicately from the arching branches, but are able to hang on tenaciously for winter interest.

However, these seed pods (see photos here) can be considered as a mixed blessing.  If you like the pods, then make sure you plant a female tree.  You can assure yourself it’s a female by asking the grower if it was planted from seed.  If you are not a pod lover, then you’ll want a male tree or one that was grafted.

It’s also important to know that some sources report the leaves, seeds and pulp of the Kentucky coffee tree are toxic to sheep, cattle, horses and humans.  Other sources report low toxicity if ingested raw and no toxicity for seeds when roasted.  Either way, it is important to be informed.  Especially if you plan to plant this tree where animals or children will be present.

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