Since August, I have been checking regularly two Kentucky Coffeetrees that grow in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park, paying them much more attention than I have in other years. My main interest has been the developing seed pods.
These pictures were taken in August.
Kentucky Coffeetree is a tree native to, though not very common in, parts of the mid-west. Southern Michigan is at the northern end of its original range. It is now sold by nurseries and used as a landscaping tree. The size and location of the Eliza Howell trees suggest that they were planted here long after the park was established. They are both female trees, producing seeds.
The seeds (beans) of the tree have been used – roasted – as a food in some Native American cultures and the Meskwaki (Fox) are said to have ground them for use in a hot beverage. Early European colonists also tried it as a “coffee” as well. (Unroasted pods and seeds are reportedly toxic.)
The seeds mature slowly. When the leaves began to turn in October, the pods were darker in color, but remained firmly attached.
The pods vary in length, most about 4 or 5 inches long, much shorter but thicker than the pods of the Honey Locus tree, often seen on the ground at this time of the year. I placed the two together for comparison.
Now, in early November, the Coffeetree leaves are down. But the seeds remain firmly on the tree; I have not yet found a single one that has fallen on its own. (I picked those that I have examined.)
This picture was taken this week.
The pods are not yet as tough as they will get and the seeds, though considerably changed since August, are not yet fully mature.
I sometimes refer to my visits to Eliza Howell as “doing research.” It sounds more serious than “going for a walk.” One of my current research questions is: “When will the Kentucky Coffeetree seed pods fall?” My hypothesis is that it will not be for at least another month.
It’s an exciting life I lead – watching seeds mature!