The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


September 19, 2013

Respect our trees -- trees have families, too

Most of the time we take trees for granted. We just expect them to be in the same spot year after year. Leaf out in the spring, burst into bloom, be green and fluffy in the summer and give us a beautiful fall show.

There is no thought to the hot dry weather, summer storms, insect attacks and frigid winter winds they endure year after year.

Trees have families, individual characteristics, special needs and their own kind of plant personality that we in the animal kingdom should appreciate and respect.

The Kentucky Coffee Bean Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is of the Legume (Pea) Family. Other members of the family include green beans, soybeans and peanuts. It has a bean pod that somewhat looks like a coffee bean and is full of seeds. These beans were used by Kentucky pioneers to make a coffee substitute by drying and roasting the beans. These pods are very poisonous before the roasting process. The leaves, seeds and sprouts are also poisonous.

Some of the other names for this tree are: American Bean Tree, American Mahogany, Chicot, Canada Coffee Bean, Dead Tree, Stump Tree and Kentucky Mahogany. These trees can reach a height of 100 feet and 3 feet in diameter.

It has the largest leaf of any tree found in North America with each being up to three feet long and a compound of many leaflets. The fall colors are a light green to a dull yellow and are not very attractive.

This tree is native to the central United States. It has a rich dark grain and the trees are used for fence posts, furniture, rail road ties, bridge timbers and fuel. When the United States started the railway expansion westward the wood from these trees was used to make sleeper cars.

This tree is located by the Rock Garden near the Learning Center at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

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