View Full Version : Kentucky Coffee Tree

Jim Budde
05-29-2007, 01:50 PM
Did the search thing and was unable to fine any comments re: wood of the Kentucky coffee tree. Local sawyer has a supply and indicates it is as rot resistant as osage orange or some of the other durable species often discussed here. Any thoughts?

Bob Smalser
05-29-2007, 02:01 PM

A Black Locust cousin.

Gymnocladus dioicous

Family: Leguminosae

Kentucky Coffetree

The genus Gymnocladus is represented by four species native to North America [1] and Asia [3]. The word gymnocladus comes from the Greek–naked branch–referring to the few stout twigs, which are conspicuous year round. The word dioicus relates to dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees.

Gymnocladus dioicus- American coffee bean, American mahogany, chicot, chico du Canada, chicot tree, coffeebean, coffeebean-tree, coffeenut, coffeetree, dead tree, geweihbaum, Kentucky mahogany, mahogany, mahogany-bean, nettle-tree, nicker-tree, stump tree.


From central New York and southern Ontario west to southern Michigan, Minnesota and South Dakota south to central Kansas, southern Oklahoma east to Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Tree

The Kentucky coffeetree is medium size, reaching 100 ft (30 m) tall and 3 ft (1 m) in diameter. The trunk commonly divides into 3 or 4 stems, about 15 ft (4.5 m) from the ground. The tree has deciduous leaves that are bipinnately compound. It produces white to lavender flowers in large clusters (terminal racemes). The tree produces bean-like pods that are hard and woody when mature and contain several seeds surrounded in sweet, greenish pulp. It grows in deep rich soils in bottom lands, in association with sweetgum, tupelo, oaks and hickories. For about 6 months of the year, the tree lies dormant, leading to the name Dead Tree or Stump Tree.

The Wood


The wood of Kentucky coffeetree is ring porous, resembling ash, honeylocust or sassafras. Its sapwood is narrow and yellowish white, while the heartwood is light red to reddish brown. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. It is hard and heavy, with a coarse, straight grain.

Working Properties: Kentucky coffeetree works without difficulty and finishes to a smooth surface.

Durability: Very resistant to heartwood decay, especially in contact with the soil.

Preservation: No information available at this time.

Uses: Cabinets, railroad ties, fence posts and rails, general construction, railway sleepers, bridge timbers, sills, interior finish, fuel. The seeds were used by the pioneers as a coffee substitute ("coffeetree").

Toxicity: No information available at this time.

Jim Budde
05-29-2007, 02:51 PM
Thank you, Bob

Jim Budde
05-29-2007, 02:56 PM
By the way, Bob, do you think Kentucky coffee lumber would lend itself to steam bending?

05-29-2007, 10:13 PM
it might if you can find its MOE ,Modulus of elasticity, try google, or www.woodfinder.com ,as well as its specific gravity in comparison to Ash.As it is appears similiar it might work, but then again it might not. try it an let us know.......stephen

Bob Smalser
05-29-2007, 11:57 PM
By the way, Bob, do you think Kentucky coffee lumber would lend itself to steam bending?

SG is .60 and MOE is 1.42, about the same as the stiffer oaks and walnut.

This wood isn't in any of my bending handbooks, you'll have to try it. As it's similar to walnut, it may bend like it, and walnut bends well.

Jim Budde
05-30-2007, 07:55 AM
Thanks, folks

I'll buy some next week and run some tests .. will let you know how it works.

Mike Keers
06-02-2007, 12:13 AM
By coincidence, a trade magazine I received yesterday called "Wood and Wood Products" had the Kentucky Coffeetree as its Wood of the Month. I can add little to the discussion of properties as the article draws on the same info Bob posted above, pretty much word for word. There is some additional discussion about it's working properties and uses from people utilizing it for furniture and so forth.

There was some anecdotal info that gave me a chuckle tho...the name comes from the fact early settlers used the beans as a coffee substitute, as it says at the end of Bob's post. However, Donald Culross Peattie writing in A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America notes: "The appearance of the beans or seeds, rather than the taste, must have induced pioneers to roast and brew them to make what can only by imagination and forbearance be called 'coffee'. As soon as the first settlers were able to obtain real coffee, they troubled this curious tree for its beans no longer." :D

06-12-2007, 10:50 PM
There's one in an aboretum on Long Island. It's a funky looker , fits description "trunk commonly divides into 3 or 4 stems, about 15 ft (4.5 m) from the ground."
Nice to know it has value beyond the seeds...

Bob (oh, THAT Bob)
06-13-2007, 01:56 PM
Regarding steam bending in general, I would think that the modulus of elasticity (when dry?) would not necessarily be an indicator of bending under steam. True/False?