KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE
American Coffee Bean, American Mahogany, Chicot, Chico du Canada,
Coffeebean, Coffeenut , Coffeetree, Dead Tree, Geweihbaum,
Kentucky Mahogany, Mahogany-Bean, Nettle-Tree, Nicker-Tree, Stump
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.
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
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.
Together, aspen, basswood, cottonwood, elm, gum, hackberry, sassafras,
sycamore and willow represent 12.5 percent of commercially available
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.
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