Gymnocladus dioica (L.) K. Koch

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

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'Gymnocladus dioica' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2020-07-07.


Common Names

  • Kentucky Coffee-tree


  • Guilandina dioica L.
  • Gymnocladus canadensis Lam.


Other species in genus


    (pl. calyces) Outer whorl of the perianth. Composed of several sepals.
    With only male or only hermaphrodite flowers on individual plants.
    Flower-bearing part of a plant; arrangement of flowers on the floral axis.
    midveinCentral and principal vein in a leaf.
    Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
    (of a leaf) Unlobed or undivided.


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    Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

    Recommended citation
    'Gymnocladus dioica' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2020-07-07.

    A deciduous tree up to 110 ft high, with a trunk 6 to 10 ft in girth, usually branching low down, and forming a narrow, rounded head. Branchlets downy when young, light grey, marked by numerous small scars. Leaves up to 3 ft long and 2 ft wide, bipinnate, the two lowest pairs of pinnae being simple leaflets, but the upper ones composed of four to seven pairs of leaflets; the leaflets are ovate, 112 to 212 in. long (the two lowest pairs considerably larger), grey-green and hairy beneath, principally on the veins and midrib. The tree is dioecious, the panicles of the female tree being 8 to 12 in. long, 3 to 4 in. wide, narrowly pyramidal; flowers downy, 34 to 1 in. long; petals greenish white, calyx not quite so long as the petals, tubular at the base, with five linear teeth. In the male tree the inflorescence is about one-third the length of the females. Pods 6 to 10 in. long, 112 to 2 in. wide.

    Native of the eastern and central United States; cultivated in England before the middle of the 18th century. In its foliage it is perhaps the most beautiful of all hardy trees. It is perfectly hardy in the south of England, but grows extremely slowly, and rarely flowers. It evidently needs more summer heat than it gets here, for there are fine specimens both in France and Germany suggesting in their leafless state the habit and branching of the horse chestnut. In autumn a curious effect is produced by the leaflets falling off and leaving the naked common stalk on the branches for some time. In winter, young trees have a very distinct and rather gaunt appearance, the branches being few, thick, and rough. It likes a deep rich soil and is propagated by imported seeds. The common name is said to have originated through the people of Kentucky and Tennessee at one time roasting and grinding the seeds to make a beverage like coffee.

    The largest specimens in Britain so far recorded are all in the south-eastern part of the country. They are: Nymans, Sussex, 55 × 5 ft (1966); Kew 47 × 434 ft and 37 × 3 ft (1964-6); Dulwich College Road, London, 45 × 2 ft (1957); Linton Park, Kent, 47 × 234 ft (1965). There is an old tree in the Oxford Botanic Garden which is dying back; it measures 49 × 434 ft (1970). The best specimen in the country was at Claremont, Surrey; it attained 60 × 7 ft and flowered regularly, but no longer exists. In Eire there is one at Ashbourne House, Co. Cork, measuring 46 × 412 ft (1966). There is a white-variegated form, of no beauty.

    From the Supplement (Vol. V)

    specimens: Kew, 56 × 514 ft (1973) and another 50 × 534 ft (1978); Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth, London, 52 × 334 ft (1985); Battersea Park, London, ten trees, the best 48 × 5 ft (1983); Brompton Cemetery, London, 40 × 418 ft (1983); Dulwich College Road, London, 40 × 3 ft (1976); Linton Park, Kent, 72 × 412 ft (1984); Nymans, Sussex, 59 × 5 ft (1977); Oxford Botanic Garden, 44 × 434 ft (1981).

    G chinensis Baill

    A tree up to 40 ft high, with leaves 1 to 3 ft long, each of the pinnae consisting of twenty to twenty-four oblong leaflets, {3/4} to 1{1/2} in. long, silky beneath. Flowers lilac-purple, both perfect and unisexual, borne on the same tree, in downy racemes. Pods 4 in. long, 1{1/2} in. wide. Native of China, and said by Henry to be rather rare. Introduced to Kew in 1888, but not hardy there.


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