Species Profile

Kentucky Coffee-tree

Scientific Name: Gymnocladus dioicus
Other/Previous Names: Gymnocladus dioica
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: In Canada, this deciduous tree is found only in extreme southwestern Ontario. Searches have identified new subpopulations, and recovery efforts have established new sites, but the number of mature individuals remains very low. Most subpopulations are threatened by shading caused by fire suppression, and several occurrences on the Lake Erie islands are threatened by high densities of nesting Double-crested Cormorants. The ability of this species to respond to threats is limited by low rates of sexual reproduction, and by low seed production, which in turn restricts dispersal.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1983. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2000 and May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Kentucky Coffee-tree

Kentucky Coffee-tree Photo 1
Kentucky Coffee-tree Photo 2

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Description

The Kentucky Coffee-tree belongs to the legume (pea) family and is a medium-sized tree with stout widely-spaced branches and a narrow crown. The leaves, which are doubly-compound, can be almost a meter in length and are the largest of any native tree in Canada. Each is composed of about 70 leaflets that have smooth margins and are bluish-green in colour. After the leaves emerge in the late spring, the tree produces greenish-white flowers in terminal clusters, with male and female flowers usually on different trees. The Kentucky Coffee-tree fruit is a hard, dark, leathery bean-like pod that it 15 to 25 cm long, contains four to seven seeds and remains on the tree all winter. The tree drops its leaves in early fall so it is essentially bare for half of the year.

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Distribution and Population

In North America, the Kentucky Coffee-tree occurs from southern Canada, New York and Minnesota, south to Oklahoma and Kansas. In Canada, it is found only in southwestern Ontario. In the early 1980’s, Kentucky Coffee-trees were known from 15 sites in southwestern Ontario. Since that time, 12 new sites have been found within the species’ previously known range; one of these sites may not be native. In addition, one of the original sites has disappeared. Consequently, there are currently 25 known native populations of the Kentucky coffee-tree in Canada. Because the species is quite conspicuous, it is unlikely that it has been missed in recent attempts to locate it, and no additional occurrences are likely to be found in Canada.

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Habitat

Kentucky Coffee-trees occur in an area of Canada that has one of the warmest climates and longest growing seasons in the country and where climate is moderated year round by the proximity of lakes Erie and Huron. Within this area, the Kentucky Coffee-tree inhabits open areas of floodplains and the edges of wetlands. In these habitats, the tree do not usually suffer from shading because occasional flooding inhibits canopy closure by competing species.

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Biology

Kentucky Coffee-trees are shade-intolerant and may occur as individuals or as large clonal (multiple trunks coming up from the same root system) populations that dominate the local area. In Canada, this species rarely grows from seeds but usually reproduces vegetatively by sending up root suckers. Consequently, most populations represent single-sex clones.

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Threats

In Canada, the main limiting factors, in addition to climate, for the Kentucky Coffee-tree are probably lack of suitable habitat and lack of reproduction by seeds. This tree inhabits one of the most developed areas of the country. Clearing and grazing pose threats to floodplain, fencerow, and roadside sites, and some other sites are vulnerable to development. Several sites along roadsides or fencerows have Kentucky Coffee-trees that have few opportunities to repopulate natural areas. Another factor contributing to the lack of suitable habitat is forest stands that are susceptible to canopy closure by competing tree species. The Kentucky Coffee-tree only produces seed at two sites in Canada; most sites are single-sex clones. Therefore, there may be very little genetic diversity in the Canadian population. Finally, the increasing population of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) in the Great Lakes threatens some Kentucky Coffee-tree populations because the droppings from nesting cormorants kill most trees.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Kentucky Coffee-tree is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Kentucky Coffee-tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Carolinian Woodland Plants Recovery Team

  • Jarmo Jalava - Chair/Contact - Other
    Phone: 705-760-2823  Send Email

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date A draft recovery strategy for the Kentucky Coffee-tree has been prepared. Summary of Recovery Activities In the mid-1980’s, Recovery Team members undertook plantings of Kentucky Coffee-trees on Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) properties in southern Ontario. They were planted in conservation areas so that the trees, as they matured, could cross pollinate and drop seed pods into water or suitable habitats. The East Sister Island Park Management Plan includes the development and implementation of a management strategy, including the protection of a Kentucky Coffee-tree population. Several recovery activities are underway on Walpole Island. Data on existing occurrences have been entered into a Global Information System database. Seed production and germination rates are being studied. A cooperative program between Walpole Island First Nation and the Sherwood Fox Arboretum of the University of Western Ontario includes greenhouse propagation of Kentucky Coffee-trees and their planting at Walpole Island as part of the Walpole Island Ecosystem Recovery Strategy. Sixty small trees were planted on Walpole Island in 2007. Stewardship actions are being promoted by educating and encouraging public involvement in recovery activities. Traditional science and aboriginal traditional knowledge are being used to enhance the key aspects of the Walpole Island ecosystems. The University of Guelph Arboretum has a living gene bank of many of the Ontario populations of Kentucky Coffee-tree from collections made in the mid-1980s. A habitat restoration program planned for the Canard River Kentucky Coffee-tree Environmentally Significant Area is part of the Biodiversity Conservation Implementation Program for the Essex Region. Partners in this project include the Essex Region Conservation Authority, Environment Canada, Ontario Great Lakes Renewal Foundation, and Ontario Power Generation. Trees planted by the City of Windsor, as well as some trees at St. Williams’ tree nursery, have produced seeds. Those at St. Williams’ have been collected, germinated, and planted in other locations. URLs Ontario’s Biodiversity: Species at Riskhttp://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/risk.php?doc_type=fact&lang=&id=34

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

14 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Kentucky Coffee-tree Gymnocladus dioicus in Canada (2021-12-20)

    In Canada, this deciduous tree is found only in extreme southwestern Ontario. Searches have identified new subpopulations, and recovery efforts have established new sites, but the number of mature individuals remains very low. Most subpopulations are threatened by shading caused by fire suppression, and several occurrences on the Lake Erie islands are threatened by high densities of nesting Double-crested Cormorants. The ability of this species to respond to threats is limited by low rates of sexual reproduction, and by low seed production, which in turn restricts dispersal. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 12, 2021.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Kentucky Coffee-tree (2022-01-10)

    In Canada, this deciduous tree is found only in extreme southwestern Ontario. Searches have identified new subpopulations, and recovery efforts have established new sites, but the number of mature individuals remains very low. Most subpopulations are threatened by shading caused by fire suppression, and several occurrences on the Lake Erie islands are threatened by high densities of nesting Double-crested Cormorants. The ability of this species to respond to threats is limited by low rates of sexual reproduction, and by low seed production, which in turn restricts dispersal.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Kentucky Coffee-tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) in Canada (2014-12-23)

    Kentucky Coffee-tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a moderate-sized canopy tree of the legume family, and is the only member of its genus in North America. Male and female flowers are generally produced on separate trees and, when fertilized, form a hard, dark, bean-like pod, which remains on the tree through the winter. However, the species spreads primarily through root suckers (ramets) and sexual reproduction is relatively infrequent.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#19), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2006-06-01)

    Activities may include any of the following for any species: Collection of small amounts of seed (<1%) for propagation ex situ for the pupose of studying seed viability, germination condisions and rates. Collection of a mall proportion (<1%) of inflorescences or flowers for the purpose of determining fertility, seed predation rates, etc. Removal of a small number (<0.1%) of individuals of annual species (e.g. Agalinus spp.) for research on habitat and microsite requirements. Collection of seed for the purpose of propagation ex situ plants to provide material for research and/or for restoration projects. Mapping location, counting and setting up permanent study quadrats may sometime involve accidental trampling of some plants and portions of some habitat. This will be kept to a minimum. Some perturbation of habitat may occur during removal of invasive species. Some experimental purturbation of habitat for restoration purposes may be done in locations where species at risk are thought to be extirpated.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2013-15), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-10-20)

    Parks Canada staff and contractors will be affecting individual species at risk trees when annually mowing grass and/or herbaceous vegetation, trimming woody vegetation, and removing vegetative debris along roadsides in Point Pelee National Park. These trees include the Common Hoptree, Dwarf Hackberry, Red Mulberry, Kentucky Coffee-tree and Butternut.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2013-15), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2017-11-01)

    Parks Canada staff and contractors will be affecting individual species at risk trees when annually mowing grass and/or herbaceous vegetation, trimming woody vegetation, and removing vegetative debris along roadsides in Point Pelee National Park. These trees include the Common Hoptree, Dwarf Hackberry, Red Mulberry, Kentucky Coffee-tree and Butternut.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2016-21818), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2016-06-01)

    The project involves the collection of leaves (2-3 per Kentucky Coffee-tree) for DNA extraction and subsequent genotyping, and the recording (GPS) of tree locations. Our goal on Middle Island will be to sample leaves (2-3 per tree) from a minimum of 15 trees per 'site' (loosely defining site as discrete clusters of trees, of which there are about 8 on the island). From each 'site', the goal will be to sample all mature trees, plus an approximately equal number of saplings in order to a) obtain genetic diversity estimates for the population as a whole, and b) obtain cohort genetic data that will allow us to compare genetic diversity between different age classes, and also infer clonal versus sexual eproduction. In Point Pelee National Park, our goal will be similar, i.e. sampling from a representative range of trees. We will begin by sampling 2-3 leaves from all accessible mature trees (Scott has location map provided by Nicole). We will also sample from all located saplings that do not appear to be 'satellite' (clonal shoots) or mature parental trees, plus a subset of 'satellite' trees (aim for 2-4 satellite trees per parental tree, maximizing the distance among sample trees for each cluster). As discussed with Nicole Paleczny, we are also interested in obtaining seeds later in the season for germination experiments. These seeds will come from a batch already collected by park staff from mainland PPNP Kentucky Coffee-trees, which are considered planted and non-native. Still, no more than 10% of seeds/individual tree will be collected. The native Kentucky Coffee-trees on Middle Island have never been recorded as setting seed and if seed is found, it will not be collected as part of this study.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-OR-2008-0085), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2008-05-13)

    Activities will include census of populations of White Prairie Gentian, Showy Golden Rod, Pink Milkwort and Small White Ladies Slipper on Walpole Island First Nation; collection of sample leaves from White Prairie Gentian for genetic analysis; detailed measurements and collection of limited fruit capsules from Small White Ladies Slipper; and collection of small amounts of seeds from White Prairie Gentian, Showy Goldenrod, Pink Milkwort, Kentucky Coffee Tree and Common Hop Tree for propagation ex situ for the purpose studying seed viability, germination conditions and rates, and eventual planting of propagated plants to a protected tallgrass prairie / oak savanna / woodland restoration sites on the Walpole Island First Nation. Some experimental perturbation of habitat for restoration purposes may be done in locations where species at risk are thought to be extirpated.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2022 (2022-01-10)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 640 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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