By Eric Sundell
About a dozen Kentucky coffee-trees encircle the Arkansas Supreme Court Building on the south side of the Capitol grounds off 7th Street in Little Rock. Gymnocladus dioicus is an Arkansas native, but not an easy one to find in the wild.
The trees are spectacular in every way: leaves are 1-3 feet long and doubly compound; bark is fissured and scaly; pods are massive; seeds have been roasted and ground for a coffee substitute (caffeine free) (however, fresh seeds and surrounding pulp are poisonous); even the pith of the stout branches is sensational, orange-brown to a bright orange. According to the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s Steven Burgess, county forester for Pulaski and Perry counties, the trees were planted in the early 1990s.
Kentucky coffee-trees bear male or female flowers, so you will need to walk around the building to find the two trees bearing fruits. A champion coffee-tree can reach a height of 90 feet with a trunk 3 feet in diameter.