Gymnocladus dioica. KENTUCKY COFFEE TREE. Cental and Eastern US

A deciduous tree with leaves 1½ to 3 feet long divided into 1- to 3-inch-long leaflets. A single specimen, about 50 feet tall but leaning dramatically, is in the greenbelt between San Francisquito Creek and Sand Hill Road, about 100 yards toward El Camino Real from London Plane Way and 25 yards in from the bike path.

Illustrations (links open new windows): habit |


The Pea family is among the largest flowering plant families with about 18,000 species in 630 genera worldwide. Caesalpina is the type genus for the Fabaceae subfamily Caesalpinioideae, following Cronquist (1981). This subfamily is intermediate in flower morphology between the other two higher-level classifications Mimosoideae and Faboideae (or Papilionoideae). The latter and largest group includes plants with papilionaceous, "butterfly-like", corollas (with standard, wings, and keel)—as the common garden pea.

All subfamilies are well represented on campus for closer study. Caesalpinioideae and Mimosoideae include mainly tropical trees with pinnately or bipinnately compound, alternate leaves. Mimosoideae flowers are regular (radially symmetrical), the corolla with equal petals often fused into a tube. Campus representatives include Acacia, Albizia, and Gymnocladus. Caesalpinioideae flowers are usually more or less zygomorphic (divisible into equal halves in one plane only). As with Caesalpina spp., the petals are distinct, the uppermost often smaller than the laterals. Other campus members of the subfamily include Bauhinia, Cassia, Cercis, Gleditsia, and Parkinsonia. It would be instructive to work out the higher classification of the many other campus peas (genera listed in the family index) from field observation throughout the year.

— further reading: Wendy Zomlefer, Guide to Flowering Plant Families, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Name derivation, genus | species Greek gymnos (naked) and klados (branch), the branches are stout, without any small twigs | dioecious = male and female flowers on separate plants.

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