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KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE
Gymnocladus dioicus


Common Names

American Coffee Bean, American Mahogany, Chicot, Chico du Canada, Coffeebean,  Coffeenut , Coffeetree, Dead Tree, Geweihbaum, Kentucky Mahogany, Mahogany-Bean, Nettle-Tree, Nicker-Tree, Stump Tree.


History

It was found that early pioneers brewed a dark coffee-like drink by adding boiling water to the ground-up seeds from a tree found in Kentucky, thus the name "Kentucky Coffee Tree." In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, George Rogers Clark sent some of the seeds with the description, "It makes beautiful shade and I think it will flourish with you." (Kentucky Coffee Trees can be found at Jefferson's Monticello and at the University of Virginia, the school which he founded.) Among others who had Kentucky Coffee Trees on their estates were Cassius Marcellus Clay and General George Washington.


Did You Know?

Early settlers made a coffee substitute from the roasted seeds. The Coffee Tree  is a legume, a flowering plant that produces compound leaves and pods containing seeds that are bitter but edible. It is important to note however that beans of the Coffee Tree are poisonous to humans unless thoroughly roasted.


Distribution

From central New York and southern Ontario west to southern Michigan, Minnesota and South Dakota south to central Kansas, southern Oklahoma east to Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Kentucky Coffee Tree is medium size, reaching 100 ft tall and 3 ft in diameter. The tree  grows in deep rich soils in bottom lands, in association with Sweet Gum, Tupelo, Oaks and Hickories.


Main Uses

The wood of the Kentucky Coffee tree was prized, being called "Kentucky Mahogany" for its rich color and dense grain. It was used for furniture, cabinets, interior millwork, fence posts, railroad ties, and rails, general construction, railway sleepers, bridge timbers, sills and fuel.


Relative Abundance

Together, aspen, basswood, cottonwood, elm, gum, hackberry, sassafras, sycamore and willow represent 12.5 percent of commercially available U.S. hardwoods.


General Description

The wood of Kentucky Coffee Tree is ring porous, resembling Ash, Honey Locust or Sassafras. Its sapwood is narrow and yellowish white, while the heartwood is light red to reddish brown. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. It is hard and heavy, with a coarse, straight grain. For about 6 months of the year, the tree lies dormant, leading to the name Dead Tree or Stump Tree.


Availability

Extremely Limited

 

Environmental Concerns

The leaves, seeds and pulp are poisonous and are toxic to livestock, humans, and pets. Sprouts eaten in the spring have produced toxicosis. Leaves, young sprouts, and seeds with gelatinous mater around them contain the toxin. Cattle have reportedly died after drinking from pools of water contaminated by fallen leaves and seeds from the tree. There is at least one anecdotal report of a human poisoning by Kentucky Coffee Tree.

Ash • Beech • Brazilian Cherry • Brazilian Walnut • Aromatic Cedar • Cherry • Coffeenut • Cypress • Hickory • Hard Maple • Poplar • Red Elm • Red Oak • Sassafras • Soft Maple • Walnut • White Oak • White Pine • Yellow Pine • Heart Pine

click the above images to view

Wood is a natural product. Some variation in color and grain pattern will occur between samples, images on this website, photographs and any specific installation.



Working Properties

The grain of the Kentucky Coffeenut is similar to Ash, with a course texture. It is medium strong and has good to excellent working characteristics and finishes to a smooth surface. The wood is very resistant to heartwood decay, especially in contact with the soil.


Ash Wood - Working Properties Chart

PDF file on strength & mechanical properties

Get the FREE Adobe Reader


Physical Properties

The reddish brown wood is hard and durable and very attractive when finished and polished. It is typically used in cabinet making.

USDA Plant Guide on Kentucky Coffee Tree (pdf 104kb)

1390 Janka Hardness Rating

KY Coffee Tree

Product Weights

Lbs

Green Rough Sawn

5.17 bf

KD Rough Sawn

3.77 bf

KD 15/16" HoM Planed

3.54 bf

KD 3/4" S4S & Flooring

3.07 sf

Listed weights are considered estimated averages only and do not include the additional weight of bolsters, packaging or crating.

 

 

 

 

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