The “Bluegrass State” is home to pastures of lush grass and fertile soil, containing one of the largest populations of elk, turkey, and deer. Some of the state’s nationally recognized attractions include the Kentucky Derby and college basketball’s Kentucky Wildcats.
Thanks to a tree that’s been sprouting in Kentucky’s woodlands since prehistoric times, the state has a unique coffee culture. It’s known as the Kentucky Coffee Tree, it can grow as high as 70 feet tall with stout branches and a pyramidal head, and although the tree’s population is on the decline, a major effort throughout the Midwest is taking place to preserve this indigenous plant of the American landscape.
The Hunt Is On To Save the Kentucky Coffee Tree
Throughout the Midwest, nature preservationists are scouring their states’ woodlands in search of rare female seedpods of the Kentucky Coffee Tree. This wild species of tree is indigenous to the region and dates back to pre-colonial times; however, due to its toxic elements, there are too few animals that can digest and disseminate its seeds, causing the population of the tree species to deplete. That’s why a concerted effort to regrow them is taking place by nature lovers throughout the Midwest. The people trek deep into the woods to find the remaining female coffee trees, so they can germinate their seeds in a controlled environment.
The Story Behind America’s Java Tree
During the Pleistocene period, the Gymnocladus dioicus once sprouted far and wide throughout the North American continent. Its seeds were spread and germinated throughout the land by Mastodons and rhinos that snacked on its seedpods then redistributed them in different areas in their dung.
Later, the Native Americans used the seeds of the tree for a quick healthy snack. Later, early European settlers of the Midwest used the tree’s seeds as a substitute for coffee beans. When boiled the seeds produced a crude tasting imitation of the real thing.
Today people like the tree for its aesthetic value. Landscapers throughout Kentucky and Iowa use the trees to line the front of people’s homes and decorate the grounds of businesses and municipal buildings.
Who is Trying to Save the Coffee Tree?
Throughout the state of Kentucky professional plant hunters like Espresso-JSF and J.C. McDaniel Prairie Titans are hard at work to find the rare seedpods of female trees. Some government agencies are already considering including on a list of endangered plant life, meaning a concerted effort on a state and federal level may go into effect to save the tree.
Of course, the tree isn’t loved by everyone. Due to its toxic elements, animals and unsuspecting people who eat the seeds can become very sick or even die. Veterinarians in Kentucky have treated many domesticated animals like dogs and cats that were deathly sick from eating the tree’s seeds.
One thing is for sure, none of us we’ll see a Kentucky Coffee Tree blend at our local Starbucks. Although the early colonist didn’t have a choice about drinking the bitter tasting brew, we have the luxury of enjoying blends of java from all over the world. However, I’m sure we all hope to see a resurgence of the native tree in the near future.