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Mr. Smarty Plants - Identity of fragrant oak-like leaves used at funeral

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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.

 

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Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

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