Kentucky Coffeetrees Feb. 01, 2008
Operating on about 4 fours of sleep last night, makes me a huge fan of coffee today. Actually, anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge fan of coffee everyday. So the Kentucky Coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioica is a tree to spark my imagination.
Last week, the Merlin at Green Lawn cemetery was posing for pictures in a tree near the mausoleum. I told my pal Jim McCormac, as he is always interested in the goings on at Green Lawn. His first question was, "What kind of tree was it in?" Well, I wasn't sure. Shame on Weedpicker!
When Jim viewed the photo, (inset) he commented it looked like a Kentucky Coffeetree. No, I thought, all my photos of Kentucky Coffeetrees had the trees still bearing their seed pods. How could this be? Jim is never wrong :) well... rarely.
The Greek name for this tree illuminates the issue: Gymnocladus: means "naked" and "a branch," referring to stout branches with no leaves for many months. Dioica: means "of two houses". These species has both male and females! The Merlin (inset photo) must be in a male tree, while my previous photos were all females- still bearing their seed.
The seed is worth examining as well. The pods are a bit reminiscent of a honey locust pod, however it is much shorter and the covering is nearly as solid as a hazel nut's shell. Kentucky Coffeetree seeds were once touted as a subsitute for coffee. Roast and grind the beans: and Voila! Decaf or regular, I am not sure. Interestingly enough, the Freckmann Herbarium, a great general reference site, lists it as a hazardous plant, meaning it can be poisonous. Hm, might make me think twice about roasting and toasting with this bean.
Green Lawn has a number of these facinating trees in the Fabeacea (bean) family. Unfortunately, none of them are the State Big Tree champion, but this Columbus cemetery / public arboretum does boast of several other big tree records. One more reason you will want to visit soon!