Biology

Sewanee: The University of the South

Kentucky Coffeetree discovered on the Domain

July 22, 2013

Gymnocladus diocus


Gymnocladus diocus

A new tree species discovered for the Domain, Franklin County and the Cumberland Plateau:  Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Dr. Jon Evans and the Herbarium Fellows (Hali Steinmann, Callie Oldfield and Nathan Bourne) found a small population adjacent to a long-term plot that they were sampling on a limestone bench in a remote section of the Domain. This isolated little population is many miles to the east of the edge of the naturally occurring species range in Tennessee. 

So what is Kentucky Coffeetree doing out here all by itself on the Domain? We have two theories that we are considering: 1) it is a tiny remnant of a much larger range that has been slowly disintegrating over time with the extinction of its original dispersers (Miocene megafauna). 2) Native Americans brought it to the site (they are known to have transported the large seeds prehistorically). The population may very well be one genetic individual since the species persists through root spouting. We hope to piece together its story in the coming months. If only trees could speak!   Hali Steinmann has a Herbarium blog enry about it:

//sewaneeherbarium.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/plant-of-the-day-the-kentucky-coffeetree/

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