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Sassafras albidum (Sassafras)
Kircus, Marilyn

Sassafras albidum

Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees

Sassafras

Lauraceae (Laurel Family)

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 Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flowers in 2 inch clusters
Fruit: Black, Blue
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May

Distribution

USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: S.w. ME to c. MI & extreme s.e. KS, s. to FL & e. TX
Native Habitat: Open woodlands, Roadsides, Fence rows

Growing Conditions

Water 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.

Benefit

Use Ornamental: 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: The bark 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: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Spicebush butterfly, Tiger swallow-tail, Palamedes butterflies, Pale Swallowtail.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Sassafras albidum is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Spicebush Swallowtail
(Papilio troilus)

Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Promethea silkmoth
(Callosamia promethea)

Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Pale Swallowtail
(Papilio eurymedon)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Propagation

Description: 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

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

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

Region:AGCPAKAWCBEMPGPHIMWNCNEWMVE
Status: FACU FACU FACU FACU FACU
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.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
Campbell Family Nursery - Harmony, NC
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Bibliography

Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Sassafras albidum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Sassafras albidum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Sassafras albidum

Metadata

Record Modified: 2013-09-07
Research By: TWC Staff

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