Firewood Treasures

Kentucky Coffeetree
(Gymnocladus diocus)


On the southwest edge of the McDaniel College campus stand seven sentinels, guarding the entrance to back campus. In the late winter of 2005, one of these giants dropped a large 8 inch branch during a particularly heavy February wind storm. Knowing that this wood is hard to come by, the grounds people set it aside for the campus’ local “Dr. Wood.”

Kentucky coffeetree is one of the forgotten woods. The tree itself is not particularly attractive, with coarse branches and rough, unappealing bark. They are, however, easy to spot in winter because of the dark reddish brown seed pods that are shaped like large lima bean pods and persist until spring. The coffeetree is one of only two native American trees that have bipinnately compound leaves. (The other is the viciously spiny honeylocust.)

The wood of the Kentucky coffeetree more than makes up for the failings of the tree’s outward appearance. Being a slow grower, the wood is characterized by narrow growth rings, only one or two of which are cream colored sapwood. Thus the tree consists almost totally of rich reddish tan heartwood and its minute ray fleck gives the wood an iridescent sheen. And as an added bonus, coffeetree fluoresces soft yellow under a black light (long wave uv).

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