Meet the Kentucky Coffee Tree

   Written by on August 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Ain’t it the truth! Pay attention and you can learn something every day.

gardenIn the way of an update on the (locust) tree in the yard that was threatening to crush my house, I learned last weekend that it is not, in fact, one of a couple kinds of locusts in this area. Rather, it is a Kentucky coffee tree; Latin name Gymnocladus dioica, family: Leguminosae –  and sure enough the seed cases resemble really large pea pods.

One third of that tree is unattached now, laying in clusters of sawn-up branches in the side yard. According to the tree guru, the limb itself was 22 inches in diameter and who knows how long; the whole tree is probably between 60 and 70 feet tall. The Neighbor will split it up and burn it this winter but he has a major project ahead of him. At this point, I would like to thank the tree guru and his crew for the amazing job they did. Except for a coating of sawdust over everything that didn’t get out of the way, it was an exceptionally clean job. I did lose a wisteria that was over 50 years old so the bucket truck could pull into the yard, and except for ivy, I can’t think of a plant I would be any happier to see gone.

Back to the coffee tree. Those huge seed pods can be consumed raw or cooked and supposedly the orange interior flesh has a flavor similar to sweet caramel. The roasted seeds are a caffeine-free coffee substitute but have a bitter flavor. Not that I’m going to gather the seeds to save money on coffee, but if I did, I would have to roast the seeds for three hours to rid them of  the poisonous hydrocyanic acid they contain. After roasting, they can be ground and used like commercial coffee.

I found out too that the bark on this tree is razor-sharp. I hadn’t made a habit of running my fingers along the edges but I will be careful now. That same brittle bark can be used to make a diuretic tea, a cough treatment, or to speed up a protracted labor. (How in the world did folks figure these things out?) It is said that a snuff made from the pulverized root bark has been used to cause sneezing in comatose patients.

The fruit is high in saponins and is used as a soap. The leaves are used as a fly poison. The wood is coarse-grained and heavy and finishes to a fine luster when used in furniture or cabinets. Hope it burns well and hot for The Neighbor.

And now, a birth announcement. I’m proud to say that the orphan vine growing up through the concrete at the garage has produced a   healthy, green-striped offspring, already sitting up within the curling tendrils of the plant.

One more thing I learned recently – well, I sorta knew it already but this will make the whole predicament easier to deal with. It has to do with grammar and proper word choices. Remember, folks: He is who and Him is whom…in a nutshell.

And one more thing – “Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.” This from William Safire, author of “On Language,” of which I have a copy.

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