Jan 22 2017
Last week I found these large, dull gray seed pods beneath a tree in Schenley Park with “coffee” beans inside.
The Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a rare tree with a wide distribution from Oklahoma to Ohio. It was planted in Schenley Park as an ornamental more than 100 years ago.
The tree earned its name because Native Americans used to grind the roasted beans to make a beverage like coffee. When coffee and chicory weren’t available the settlers drank this beverage, too, but they didn’t like it as well.
The pods are very tough and hard to open. I quickly learned that the flattest ones have no beans so I chose a broken one and pried it open with a knife.
The beans are dark brown, round, and hard to photograph. I moved the biggest one so you can see it better.
Did a squirrel eat the other beans? If so, I hope he’s immune to the cytisine alkaloid inside them. When not fully roasted, these beans are poisonous to humans.
Want to try some Kentucky “coffee?” No thanks. I’m sticking with Starbucks.
(photo by Kate St. John)