Tree Species Highlight: Kentucky Coffee Tree

In this winter edition of Tree Mail, we like to think about trees to highlight that deliver interest to the winter landscape. Obviously, evergreen trees provide color throughout winter, but deciduous trees with unique branching structure, bark, or fruit can be great features of the winter landscape. This season's featured species, the Kentucky coffee tree, beautifully displays seed pods throughout winter. The pods will be exposed when the tree loses its leaves in the fall, and many commonly remain on the tree nearly until spring. The coffee brown color of the seed pods contrast nicely against the blue of a winter sky. I also notice the bark and form of the Kentucky coffee tree to be a great attribute of the tree. Overall, the bark is light in color. The texture appears very course and rugged, much like the irregular branching pattern typical of the species.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma is part of the natural range of the Kentucky coffee tree. In fact, we have found these growing uncultivated along roadways and streams here in Edmond. There is also a cultivar of the tree that does not produce the seed pods. If the seed pod production and dropping is a concern, then opting for the “Espresso” Kentucky coffee tree may be a great option for you. We have actually planted this cultivar as part of the Foster-A-Tree program! Plan for the Kentucky coffee tree to mature to around 35’ tall and about as wide. When shopping for this tree, be sure to ask if you don’t see it. It may not be commonly stocked, but a full service nursery should be able to get it for you.

-Ryan Ochsner, Urban Forestry Coordinator