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Kentucky Coffee Tree has the largest leaves of any native tree is Illinois. The common name refers to either the resemblance of its seeds to coffee beans, or the use of roasted seeds by pioneers in making a substitute for coffee. It is the only species of its genus in North America; there is one other Gymnocladus sp. in China. The nearest relative of Kentucky Coffee Tree in Illinois is probably Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust), which also has bipinnate leaves and similar seedpods that are filled with a sweet gelatinous substance. Honey Locust is easily distinguished from the former tree by its smaller subleaflets (¾-1½"), longer and more twisted seedpods (6-18" in length), shorter racemes of the female flowers, less furrowed and scaly bark, and the presence of thorns on its trunk and branches (except for thornless cultivars).


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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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