Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday's Trees- Sassafras albidum

A native tree to most of the states, the Sassafras albidum is very recognizable. The kids always knew the tree by the three different leaf shapes. This tree has the oval leaf, a tri-lobed leaf and the one the kids recognized immediately, the mitten leaf.

Do you like root beer? The origins of this soda come from the root of this tree. You can smell the root beer flavor by crushing small twigs or roots. Additionally tea can be made from the root. Are you a fan of gumbo? This Cajun dish has an ingredient called filé. Filé comes from the dried, ground leaves of the sassafras tree. Cherokee, Choctaw and Chippewa have many uses for this tree, from tea to spices flavoring their foods. The Spanish explorers brought the tree back to Europe in the 1500's.

Though this tree has a wide range, zones 4- 9, the tree does better in sunnier locations. The Sassafras sprouts from roots and forms groves, crowding out other trees. There is an allopathic feature that keeps the grove clear of other plant material. It is a dioecious tree and the seed production begins on mature (10 years old) trees and it can live up to 150 years. The seeds mature in one year. Flowers appear in early spring and are quite showy.

This member of the Laurel family will grow to a height of 50 feet; it is a fast grower and has softwood. Deer like the twigs in the winter and the drupes/berries are a good food source for birds. The fall color is a glorious range of yellow to orange to reds. The inner bark is cinnamon in color and outer bark has kind of twisted deep ridges. The growth pattern is irregular, twisting a bit and the twigs form a 60 degree angle with main stem.

Floridata has some good history
MOBOT - some nice photos and good information
NC State- quick reference
Virginia Tech- another quick reference
Forestry Department, Silvics manual—in depth information, no photos
University of Florida - easy to read detailed information
USDA Plant Database- good list of additional web links
Ohio State – succinct information
Remember all photos can be clicked on to enlarge. I am continuing to update previous tree posts with photos of fall color.

Next week's tree- Chinese Pistache


  1. Janet, Thanks for posting...this is such useful information about Sassafrass! I did not know they were that hardy! I love that name, I wish I would have thought to name a pet that. :) Everybody in our house loves Root beer with their pizza.

  2. Janet,

    Enjoyed this posting as sassafras is one of my favorite trees.

    The largest sassafras I have ever seen in still growing at the corner of my childhood home in Cincinnati, the diameter of the trunk is 24 inches or more!

    One thing to note for those who like butterfly gardening, sassafras is the host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail.

  3. These are such pretty trees. They are quite common here and tend to sprout all over (though not in my yard for some reason). I love root beer and always think of this when I think of sassafras.

  4. I love to see the sassafras trees turn around my house in the Fall. They are always the most golden yellows.

  5. Hi Janet,

    What a fascinating tree! I love that it has three different shaped leaves.

    My son, who love root beer, would love one of these trees in our backyard ;0)

  6. These are great trees, though they don't seem to be long-lived. I love their yellow flowers in the spring.

  7. They grow up here in Ohio- seen them on hikes around here. This is a wonderful post in your series.

  8. This was one of the first trees I could identify when I was a child. Did you run across any of the info on its supposed medicinal properties, or its toxicity?

  9. Hi Janet~~ I think somehow I've missed your Tuesday's Trees series. I'm impressed with your research and your engaging style. Sassafras foliage is very oak-like but much more beneficial, it sounds like. Don't you wonder how the native Americans discovered the benefits of certain plants? Fascinating!

  10. Hi Rosey, I bet you have some out in your woods somewhere. It is amazing how many tree species I find I have right here that I was unaware of.

    Hi Randy, thanks for the additional information with the butterflies. That one in Cincinnati was a biggie!

    Hi Tina, They are pretty aren't they? I was unaware that they made groves -- but then, after seeing them in a few places --yes they do!

    Hi Lona, it is funny how many different colors they are in the fall, some being redder than others.

    Hi Noelle, kids love this tree--from the mitten shaped leaves to the root beer smell. win win!

    Hi Phillip, depends on what you call long lived, my research says they live up to 150 years...guess that is medium life span for trees. I need to look for the yellow flowers in the spring. Give me a heads up if you see any in our area.

    Hi Ilona, thanks so much. They seem to be wide spread throughout the States.

    Hi Les, you and me both. I did find some information about it being used for medicinal purposes and conflicting info on toxicity. The Native Americans used sassafras to cure everything from parasitic worms to syphilis, colds, measles, fever, diarrhea and constipation. I never thought I would write about diarrhea in a gardening blog...hmmmm.

    Hi Grace, well, I am glad you found the tree series! I knwo what you mean about being the first one to try a drink made from parts of a plant...??

  11. Thanks for posting this. I have seen this tree before but didn't know what it was.

    Always Growing

  12. I love those trees Janet. They were one of the first ones I could identify as a kid because of the leaf shape. The smell doesn't hurt either ~ I'm a root beer fan! :-)

  13. Another tree I've heard of, but don't know if I've seen. I'd heard of file' but didn't know what it was. I'm beginning to think the only deciduous trees I know are fruit and maples :)

  14. I love Sassafras trees. I think they're beautiful in all seasons but especially fantastic for fall color. Up until last week we'd had a rather quiet autumn, but now the Sassafras, Red Maples and Blueberries are really strutting their stuff.

  15. This is one of my favorite native trees...There isn't anything bad about this tree...I am hoping to get a small grove in the back garden~~they can fight it out with the junipers! gail

  16. Hi Janet, we are going to call you the queen of the trees as well! Sassafras is a love hate for me. In our previous TN garden it has seeded and suckered everywhere, killing all in it path! We had a very difficult time getting anything to grow even after one had to be cut down. The number suckers around the stump was incredible. I see some across the street here, and can admire them from afar. Wonderful if all you want is sassafras trees and lawn that gets mowed to keep the suckers at bay. :-)

  17. Although I've certainly heard of the sassafras tree, I'm really not familiar with it and wouldn't have recognized one. Wow! I learned a lot here. I had no idea that it was the source for root beer--though I should have figured that one out--nor of file, the Cajun spice. Sounds like a wonderful tree!

  18. Hi Jan, I am glad you were able to make an ID!

    Hi Kathleen, it is a favorite of kids, or is it parents? Show them as easy one and get the kids hooked on gardening.

    Hi Catherine, I wonder if there are many Sassafras in your area?? The info on filé was new to me as well. You will be amazed at the trees you know.

    Hi Sweetbay, our fall colors are really in good form right now as well.

    Hi Gail, It would be a great one to have!

    Hi Frances, Queen of the tree...hmmm interesting. I was surprised to read about its allopathic qualities. One has to make a decision as to what they want I suppose.

    Hi Rose, I bet you will recognize it now! Certainly a tree that has many uses for us.

  19. I have little Sassafras groves around the edges. They do sucker, but they're a source of red/orange color that we don't get otherwise. My grandchildren enjoyed smelling a scratched twig, my GS calling it 'Frosh Frosh.' Children in my mother's day chewed Sassafras, but I didn't tell the grands that.

  20. I miss this tree from Ohio. After I picked up the habit at girl scout camp, I used to always go around chewing on the petioles. Yum.

  21. Hi Nell Jean, how nice to have groves of Sassafras --love their fall color!

    Hi Nelumbo, think you need to plant one in SC. Fond childhood memories for your kids!


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