Do you like learning fun nature facts? Well, after reading this post you will have a wealth of Kentucky Coffeetree tidbits to share with friends and family on your next neighbourhood stroll.
The Kentucky Coffee tree was first encountered by Europeans in Kentucky, however it is also native to Southern Ontario. Its fruit comes in the form of a hard shelled bean with soft, sweet pulp inside. The beans had many uses to First Nations peoples – as game dice, as jewelry, and as a coffee drink (hence the name). Due to their utility, the beans were distributed by these people which helped increase the tree’s range. Since the beans have a hard shell, small animals are rarely able to chew through it and help with this dispersal. Wild coffeetrees today are best off in wetlands where the moisture degrades the shell and allows germination.
Here’s the catch though, the raw beans are toxic to humans and some animals. They contain a toxin called Cytisine which is only neutralized after the beans have been roasted. While the First Nations people drank the roasted and ground beans, European settlers deemed this Kentucky coffee inferior to real coffee. Due to the threat of toxicity and its poor taste, Kentucky coffee has not caught on as a crowd favourite these days either.
If you happen to live or work in the Crown Point neighbourhood, you can find a Kentucky Coffeetree (below) in St. Christopher’s Park.
If you would like to have a Kentucky Coffeetree on City property near your home, they are available through the Street Tree Planting Program (www.hamilton.ca/treeplanting). This way, you will have a reason to share your new fun facts more often!