Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

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DougBidlack
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Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:03 pm

NTS,

back in 2014 I was planning on planting some Kentucky coffeetrees but I wanted to grow them from seeds of trees growing within Michigan. Mark Rouw, the Iowa Big Tree Guy, told me that I should contact Andy Schmitz because he knows coffeetrees particularly well. Andy Schmitz is the director of horticulture and the general manager of the Brenton Arboretum in Iowa and man, am I glad that I contacted him. He was all set to make a seed collecting expedition in 2016 I think and he asked if I could verify the locations of some potential coffeetree sites and see if any were producing seeds. What incredible luck! So in March of 2015 I planned a trip to visit a bunch of these sites, collect some seeds for myself and report back to Andy. But first I'll mention the few trees that I measured before 2015 and provide a range map for the species in Michigan. I had measured eight trees all in Lower Huron Metropark in February of 2011 and unfortunately I have not yet remeasured any of them. Here are the measurements:
7.18' x 96'
5.09' x 96'
6.61' x 91.5'
6.54' x 91.5'
6.24' x 90'
5.54' x 90'
7.34' x 88.5'
4.47' x 84'
The following range map is based on the "Michigan Flora Online" by Reznicek, Voss and Walters. The red counties are those listed on the "Michigan Flora Online" while the gray counties are new county locations based on additional information. Kentucky coffeeree has been well known to grow in Branch county by me for several decades because it grows in a small old-growth forest in Kope Kon Nature Sanctuary. Branch county is the southernmost of the two gray counties. The northern, gray county is Shiawassee county and Andy told me that some coffeetrees are growing along the Shiawassee River in that county. The blue dots are locations of sites that I visited for this post. Site #1 is Lower Huron Metropark which I've already mentioned above. Site #8 in Lenawee county is not an exact location because it is on private property.
Kentucky Coffeetree.001.png
The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) lists five additional counties within the southern three tiers of counties of Michigan but they wanted written permission to display that info. I guess I'm a little too impatient.

My parents wanted to come with me on this trip and that made it easier and more fun for me. The first site we visited was Baldwin Park in Ingham county. This is the county where the state capitol, Lansing, is located. This would be the first and most upstream of the four coffeetree sites that we would visit along the Grand River. In Michigan, Kentucky Coffeetree is almost restricted to the driest, uppermost terraces of river floodplains in soils that contain plenty of Calcium. There are a number of other associates that reach their northern distribution in Michigan, love Calcium and tend to occur along river (or at least stream) floodplains. Some of these associates off the top of my head include blue ash, pawpaw, redbud, chinkapin oak, honeylocust and Ohio buckeye. Based on some of my reading maybe you can also add black walnut, tuliptree and black maple to that list as well. However, Erik has told me that black maple is not at all restricted to the edges of floodplains in New York (I don't remember if those NY sites had good levels of Calcium or not). In any case this first site along the Grand River had over 40 trees and a few were producing seeds. Kentucky coffeetrees, as the scientific name indicates, have male and female trees so that seeds are obviously only produced on the female trees. Unfortunately I suffered some sort of brain spasm and I forgot to measure these trees by shooting up with my Nikon 440 but I think a few were likely over 90'. I also neglected to get any pictures.

The second site on this trip was within Fitzgerald Park in Eaton County and also along the Grand River. There were at least 20 trees here and the tallest that I saw was 96', the same height as the tallest that I'd previously measured in Lower Huron Metropark. Several of these trees were producing lots of seeds and although I managed to measure these trees I did forget to get a picture yet again.

The third site was in Grand River Ravines Park in Ottawa county and is naturally along the Grand River. The tallest tree here was only 91.5' and they were not producing much seed. I took a few pictures including the two below. The first picture shows some coffeetrees with seed still up in the trees.
Coffeetree 1.jpg
The Grand River was quite wide at this site and the trees on the island look like silver maples with their dirty orange-red flowers.
Coffeetree 2.jpg
The fourth and last site on the Grand River was at Eastmanville Bayou Park which was also in Ottawa county. I only saw 1 coffeetree here and it was quite small so I didn't measure it. This lone tree was producing some seeds though. We stayed the night just south of here in Holland.

The next morning we went to Beck Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Berrien county. This site was unusual in that the trees were not located along a river but only a relatively small stream. There were five large trees here producing very few seeds but the tallest was 102' and the tallest I had measured to date. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the coffeetrees at this site.

The next site was at Kope Kon Nature Sanctuary in Branch county. This is the site of a rather small old-growth site just north of the Indiana border. The coffeetrees here were fairly stout but not very tall and the tallest that I saw only measured 91.5'. Below is a picture of this tree with my mom.
Coffeetree 3.jpg
Here is a shot looking up at this tree.
Coffeetree 4.jpg
There were 10-20 trees at this site and at least half were producing seed.

Our last site on this trip was on private property in Lenawee county. This site also had 10-20 trees with several producing seed and the tallest would end up being the tallest Kentucky coffeetree that I've measured so far. It was 111' tall and I was a happy human!

The following day I traveled to Clinton River Heritage Park in Macomb county which is naturally along the Clinton river. This site had well over 20 trees but none were producing seed. The tallest measured 108' tall and several others were quite stout. I think the largest in girth may have been close to 9' which was larger than any of the others that I had seen on this visit to Michigan. The largest tree is pictured below on the left.
Coffeetree 5.jpg
This larger, older tree had a pretty beaten up crown as you can see in the picture below. Again on the left.
Coffeetree 6.jpg
Here is a close-up of the bark.
Coffeetree 7.jpg
Here is a picture of several Kentucky coffeetrees along either side of the hike-bike trail at this site.
Coffeetree 8.jpg
About a month later I came back to check on a couple more sites along the Huron River other than the Lower Huron Metropark site. The first was at Hudson Mills Metropark and it had over 30 nice trees but none were producing seed. I measured the height of the tallest tree but I must not have written it down. There were certainly several over 90' tall. Below are a couple of pictures.
Coffeetree 9.jpg
Coffeetree 10.jpg
The next Huron River site was at Dexter-Huron Metropark. This site only had about ten coffeetrees but the tallest was just as tall as the tallest at Hudson Mills Metropark (somehow I remember this but I can't remember the number). Both of these metroparks are located in Washtenaw county to the north and upstream of Ann Arbor.

I did manage to grow some Kentucky coffeetrees from the seeds that I collected and I planted them in 2016. So far they are doing well.

Doug

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Jan 05, 2019 12:40 pm

Doug,

It really is fantastic when opportunities like that line up. Congratulations on contributing to the broader base of knowledge for this species range and morphology in Michigan! That maximum at 111' is very impressive at that latitude. Here in NY this species is endangered and has a very restricted natural range- as it turns out, one of its main populations is hiding somewhere in the state forest surrounding the finger lake my dad lives near. I did some looking around when I visited over the holiday- didn't find any this time, but I'm sure I will someday. It is such a distinctive species.

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DougBidlack
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Sat Jan 05, 2019 1:16 pm

Erik,

it really was unbelievable luck on my part, especially since this is one of my favorite species. I never would have thought that the species would reach 111' in Michigan because although it has a fairly wide distribution in the state all of the populations appear to be quite small and, as you say, it's pretty far north. I have yet to see any seeds produced on a single tree along the Huron River or Clinton River but I'll keep looking. I hope you find the trees near your dad's place. That would be really cool.

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ElijahW
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by ElijahW » Sun Jan 06, 2019 3:50 pm

Doug,

Kentucky Coffeetree is such an unusual tree; I love to see them in their natural habitat, though in NY, as Erik wrote, their range is very limited. I know of a handful of examples (all planted) which have grown to between 100 and 110' in height. In Aurora, NY, a really large Coffeetree gracing someone's front lawn is our state champion, I believe. Supposedly, a small population of uncertain origin used to exist on Howland's Island in Cayuga County. The individuals were thought either to have been naturally occurring or planted by early Native American locals. I don't know whether any trees remain on the Island, but I'll do some looking on my next visit.

Thanks for sharing and great photos,

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Lucas
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by Lucas » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:15 pm

ElijahW wrote:Doug,

Kentucky Coffeetree is such an unusual tree; I love to see them in their natural habitat, though in NY, as Erik wrote, their range is very limited. I know of a handful of examples (all planted) which have grown to between 100 and 110' in height. In Aurora, NY, a really large Coffeetree gracing someone's front lawn is our state champion, I believe. Supposedly, a small population of uncertain origin used to exist on Howland's Island in Cayuga County. The individuals were thought either to have been naturally occurring or planted by early Native American locals. I don't know whether any trees remain on the Island, but I'll do some looking on my next visit.

Thanks for sharing and great photos,

Elijah


Click on image to see its original size

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1554361 ... 543842614/

Good timing. It showed up on facebook at the same time.

"‎Brandon Miller‎ to Let's Talk Trees
Admin · January 1 at 6:07 PM
Started 2019 out with a visit to New York State’s champion Gymnocladus dioicus(Kentucky coffeetree)! The tree is located in Aurora, NY."
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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DougBidlack
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:18 am

Elijah,

did you measure that really big NY state champion?

Doug

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ElijahW
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by ElijahW » Tue Jan 08, 2019 11:10 am

Lucas,

That looks like the one. I found it by accident, the same day I did some exploring in the wooded portion of the Wells College campus, which also had some Coffeetrees.

Doug,

I haven’t measured this tree yet, other than getting a rough height. No big surprise, it’s under 100’ tall. The reported 110’ figure is a little bit off. The circumference may well be accurate.

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by Larry Tucei » Thu Jan 10, 2019 2:02 pm

Doug, Great post on the Coffeetree. It's so cool that your Mom and Dad went with you. Congrats on the finds.
Larry

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DougBidlack
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by DougBidlack » Fri Jan 11, 2019 1:39 pm

Larry,
I think it's always great to do the things you love best with the people you love best. It was my dad who first taught me to ID trees and my mom who first taught me how to grow them. I can't thank them enough.
Doug

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ElijahW
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Re: Kentucky Coffeetrees in Michigan

Post by ElijahW » Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:01 pm

Doug,

I did a little research on the Aurora, NY, Coffeetree, and its nominator to the Champion list was your friend, Andy Shmitz. I also found this great article written by Mr. Schmitz and Jeffrey Carstens about their seed-gathering exploits http://www.arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.e ... eetree.pdf; it’s very interesting and worth reading if you haven’t already.

This weekend I was able to get out to Howlands Island and search for the elusive Coffeetree. I’m excited to say that I finally found them, after several attempts and close to a decade of looking. The cluster of trees is very small: it consists of about 10 mature trees and a similar number of saplings. The thickest and tallest tree measured 104.2’ x 4.3’ CBH; however, laying on the ground next to it was a fallen tree approximately 7’ around and just over 100’ from end to end.

This group of Coffeetrees is certainly reproducing, perhaps only through root sprouting, though one tree did have a small number of seed pods still attached. I would lean towards calling the group naturally occurring, given their relatively good health and close proximity to the Seneca River, which drains several of the Finger Lakes. Assuming seeds from a source west and/or south of the great Montezuma Swamp floated down the Seneca many generations ago and sprouted on Howlands Island doesn’t seem a stretch to me.

Here are some photos of the trees:
Coffeetree habitat; cattail marsh to the south, gravelly hill to the north
Coffeetree habitat; cattail marsh to the south, gravelly hill to the north
Large fallen Coffeetree on right
Large fallen Coffeetree on right
Seed pods still attached
Seed pods still attached
Biggest and tallest tree
Biggest and tallest tree
Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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