IUCN threat status:

Not evaluated

Comprehensive Description

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This deciduous tree is 60-90' tall at maturity, consisting of a single trunk about 1½-3' across and a relatively open crown with ascending to widely spreading branches. The crown is large and ovoid in open areas, but more narrow and shorter in forested areas. The trunk is usually short, straight, and stout, although somewhat longer in forested areas. The rough-textured trunk bark is gray or gray-brown with irregular furrows and flattened scales that curl upward along their lateral edges. Bark of branches is gray and more smooth, while twigs are gray or brown with light-colored lenticels.  The pith of twigs is dull orange to dark brown. Alternate compound leaves emerge during late spring, becoming up to 3' long and 2' across; they are bipinnate with 5-9 pairs of  pinnate leaflets. Individual leaflets have 6-14 pairs of subleaflets. The petioles and rachises (central stalks) of the compound leaves and compound leaflets are light green to pale yellow and glabrous to pubescent. The simple subleaflets are 1½-2½" long and ovate in shape with smooth ciliate margins. The upper surfaces of the subleaflets are medium to dark green and hairless, while their lower surfaces are pale green and usually hairy along the major veins. The slender petiolules (basal stalklets) of the subleaflets are about 1/8" long. Kentucky Coffee Tree is dioecious or polygamo-dioecious; individual trees have either all male flowers, all female flowers, or perfect flowers. These greenish white flowers develop in pyramidal racemes on short terminal branches shortly after the leaves have already developed. Panicles with male flowers are 3-4" long, while panicles with female or perfect flowers are 6-12" long. Individual flowers are about ¾" long, consisting of a narrow tubular calyx with 5 narrow petaloid lobes, 5 narrow petals, 10 fertile stamens (male & perfect flowers only), and a fertile ovary with a single style (female & perfect flowers only). The interior of the petals and petaloid calyx lobes are white and finely pubescent; they spread widely when individual flowers are in bloom. The exterior of the tubular calyx is light green to reddish green. The pedicels become longer than the flowers with age. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about 2-3 weeks. The flowers have a mild fragrance. Fertile flowers are replaced by flattened seedpods that are 3-6" long and 1½-2" at maturity. The seedpods become mature during the autumn and persist on the tree through the winter. Their exterior is dark reddish brown to nearly black and hairless. Each seedpod contains 3-6 seeds that are immersed in a sweet gelatinous substance. Individual seeds are about ½-¾" long,  globoid-ovoid, and slightly flattened. The hard exterior coat of the seeds is dark brown. The deciduous leaves turn yellow before falling to the ground in early autumn.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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