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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - October 14, 2012

From: Middlesex , NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Trees
Title: Identity of fragrant oak-like leaves used at funeral
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

In the early 1950's I attended my grandmother's funeral in the Southern West Virginia area. At the gravesite, the funeral home had provided what looked like dried oak leaves, (red brown and gold colored) attached by wire to tiny green pointed sticks that could be placed on the grave. The wonderful scent they gave off has stayed with me my whole life, but I've never found it again. Is there an oak-like plant that has a naturally wonderful scent, or was this just probably artificial?

ANSWER:

This is a challenging question and I have thought about it a lot and asked the opinion of several people.  The best candidate any of us can think of is Sassafras albidum (Sassafras).  There are 3 varieties of leaves that appear on the tree and one of the variations definitely has an oak-like appearance.  In the fall, the leaves turn shades of red, orange and yellow.  All parts of it are aromatic—roots, bark and leaves.  Florida Forest Trees, Assateague Naturalist and GardenGuides all mention that the leaves and other parts of plant have a spicy or lemony scent.

 

From the Image Gallery


Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

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