Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, Seeds
Hardy, Adaptable, Easy to Grow, Showy Fragrant Flowers, Fragrant Leaves, Fall Color, Attracts Birds and Butterflies, Shade Tree, Cold and Drought Tolerant
This lovely, deciduous, native North American tree is pyramidal when young but later develops into a 30 to 60 foot tall by 25 to 40 foot wide, rounded canopy composed of many short, horizontal branches which give the tree a layered effect. For years, Sassafras was grown for the supposedly medicinal properties of the fragrant roots and bark but it is the outstanding fall display of foliage which should bring it into the garden today. The large, multi-formed, five-inch leaves, fragrant when crushed, are bright green throughout the summer but are transformed into magical shades of orange/pink, yellow/red, and even scarlet/purple in the cooler months of autumn, brightening the landscape wherever they are found. These colors are especially prominent when Sassafras is planted as a specimen or in a mixed shrubbery border, with a background of dark evergreens.
Leaf: Alternate, simple, pinnately veined, ovate to elliptical, entire, 3 to 6 inches long with 1 to 3 lobes; the 2-lobed leaf resembles a mitten, the 3-lobed leaf resembles a trident; green above and below and fragrant when crushed.
Flower: Dioecious; small but quite showy, both male and females are bright yellow-green, slightly fragrant, borne in 2 inch racemes (clusters) appearing in early to mid-spring
Fruit: Flowers on female trees (if pollinated) give way to small pendant clusters of 1/2 inch dark shiny blue berries (drupes) which are borne in scarlet cup-like receptacles held upright on scarlet stalks (pedicils) maturing late summer.
Twig: Slender, green and sometimes pubescent, with a spicy-sweet aroma when broken; buds are 1/4 inch long and green; twigs from young plants displayed at a uniform 60 degree angle from main stem.
Bark: Brown, with cinnamon-brown inner bark, becoming coarsely ridged and furrowed; when cut the spicy aroma is obvious.
Form: Small to medium sized tree up to 60 feet tall with an irregular often twisted trunk and main branches, usually flat-topped crown; root suckering may result in thickets.
An essential oil, called sassafras oil, is distilled from the root bark or the fruit. It was used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food (sassafras tea and candy flavoring) and for aromatherapy. The smell of sassafras oil is said to make an excellent repellent for mosquitoes and other insects, which makes it a nice garden plant. Acids can be extracted from bark for manufacturing perfumes.