The Kentucky coffeetree, (Gymnocladus dioicus) provides great diffuse shade in the summer, but with somewhat spare branching and bipinnately compound leaves (leaflets divide into smaller leaflets), it allows enough light to filter onto lawn areas for a thicker, greener yard.

As a legume, this tree fixes nitrogen in the soil. Since it is deciduous, you will still get plenty of light in the winter months.

Kentucky coffeetree
The Kentucky coffeetree’s bipinnately compound leaves allow enough light to filter onto lawn areas for a thicker, greener yard. Photo: Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org

The tree is considered highly storm-damage resistant.

The Kentucky coffeetree grows at a slow to medium rate to about 60 feet tall with a 40 to 50 feet canopy spread. Leaves reportedly start out with a pink to purplish tinge then change gradually to a dark, almost bluish green. The 5″ – 10″ long seed pods can be quite beautiful, but if you prefer a seedless variety, try the cultivar ‘Espresso,’ developed by J. Frank Schmidt and Son Nursery, Boring, Oregon.

With no serious insect or disease problems and considered hardy in USDA zones 3 – 8, this versatile tree is worth a try anywhere in Washington State.

Kentucky coffeetree at maturity. Photo: USDA Forest Service – Northeastern Area Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org