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Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees
Synonym(s): Laurus albidus, Laurus sassafras, Sassafras albidum var. molle, Sassafras officinale, Sassafras sassafras, Sassafras variifolium
USDA Symbol: SAAL5
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
The aromatic sassafras is a 35-50 ft., deciduous tree with horizontal branching in cloud-like tiers. The mahogany-brown bark is deeply ridged and furrowed. Little bunches of yellow-green flower balls are scattered profusely over the female tree; more sparsely on the male. Dark-blue fruits on scarlet stalks appear on female plants in late summer. Bright-green, mitten-shaped, oval, or three-lobed leaves have outstanding fall color.
The roots and root bark supply oil of sassafras (used to perfume soap) and sassafras tea, and have been used to flavor root beer. Explorers and colonists thought the aromatic root bark was a panacea, or cure-all, for diseases and shipped quantities to Europe. The greenish twigs and leafstalks have a pleasant, spicy, slightly gummy taste. Sassafras apparently is the American Indian name used by the Spanish and French settlers in Florida in the middle of the 16th century. This is the northernmost New World representative of an important family of tropical timbers.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Complexity: Simple Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Flowers in 2 inch clusters
Black, Blue Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
, WV Canada: ON Native Distribution:
to c. MI
& extreme s.e. KS,
s. to FL
& e. TX Native Habitat:
Open woodlands, Roadsides, Fence rows
Growing ConditionsWater Use:
Low Light Requirement:
Sun , Part Shade , Shade Soil Moisture:
Moist Soil pH:
Acidic (pH<6.8) CaCO3 Tolerance:
High Soil Description:
Rich, moist, sandy loams. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Acid-based Conditions Comments:
Sassafras can sucker into a small grove, but is easily controlled as a single tree. It is an appropriate tree
to introduce into disturbed sites with infertile soil. It grows most quickly in fertile soil, and though it prefers well-drained situations, it will tolerate soggy feet. Except for occasional iron chlorosis caused by high pH soils, the tree
is relatively free of problems. Sassafras is allelopathic and can discourage the growth of certain other plants within its root zone.
Attractive, Blooms ornamental, Fall conspicuous, Aromatic, Mass planting Use Wildlife:
Fruit-birds. Use Food:
EDIBLE PARTS: Tea made from young roots. Sweeten to taste. Only moderate amounts should be drunk. A spicy jelly can be made from strong tea with lemon joice, sugar and pectin. Green winter buds and young leaves can be added to salads. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.) Use Other:
produces an orange dye and the roots yield aromatic oil of sassafras, which has been used as a fragrance in soaps and perfumes. (Kershaw) Warning:
POISONOUS PARTS: Bark. Causes only low toxicity if ingested. In
experimental animals symptoms include a weak carcinogen. Toxic Principle: Safrole. Conspicuous Flowers:
Birds , Butterflies Larval Host:
Spicebush butterfly, Tiger swallow-tail, Palamedes butterflies, Pale Swallowtail.
PropagationDescription: Sow seed outdoors in the fall or stratify the seed and sow in spring. Sassafras may be multiplied from root cuttings taken in early spring before the plant leafs out. Sassafras freely produces root suckers which can be dug and moved. Dig around the suc
Seed Collection: Collect the fruits when they are filled out and dark blue. Only a small percentage of sassafras trees bear fruit. Clean the seeds before planting or storage. Briefly air dry. (Do not overdry if they are to be planted immediately. Store in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Seed Treatment: Stratify at 41 degrees for 30-60 days.
Commercially Avail: yes
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Mr. Smarty Plants says
Edible Plants for North Georgia
January 10, 2010
We are planning a forest food garden in the hollers of the N GA Mountains.
Which edible fruit, nut, berry, herb and creepers would be best for this reddish, clay-like soil? The food garden is in...
view the full question and answer
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-07
Research By: TWC Staff