- Common Name(s):
- Native Plants, Poisonous Plants, Trees
The Sassafras albidum and/or officinale is an ornamental, small to medium-sized deciduous tree which occurs in wood margins, fence rows, fields, thickets and roadsides. It is shrubby in youth, but matures to a dense, pyramidal tree up to 60' tall. It spreads by root suckers to form large colonies in the wild. All of the trees in a colony may rise from the same parent. The bark has brown, course ridges and cinnamon-brown furrows.
It is Dioecious (separate male and female trees). The male trees are more showy. Greenish yellow flowers; fruit is deep blue, an ovoid drupe
To Native Americans, sassafras oils were freely used in tonics as medical panaceas. Culinary uses have included: sassafras tea (bark), root beer flavoring (root oil) and a gumbo-thickening agent called filé (stem pith). More recently, sassafras oils have been determined to contain a carcinogenic substance (safrole) and many of the former uses for the oils are now banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Large taproot makes transplanting of established trees difficult. If root suckers are not removed, this tree will spread and begin to take on the appearance of a large multi-stemmed shrub.
Regions: Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains
Seasons of Interest:
Leaves: Fall Bloom: Spring Fruit/Seed/Nut: Summer
Wildlife Value: The Sassafras is a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. White-tailed deer browse the leaves and twigs. Songbirds and small mammals feast on its fruit. This tree is moderately resistant to damage from deer.
Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: The leaves may turn yellow while veins remain green (chlorosis) in alkaline soils.
- 30-60 ft.
- The Sassafras has attractive, greenish-yellow flowers that appear in clusters at the branch ends in spring. The flowers on female trees (if pollinated) give way to small pendant clusters of bluish-black berries (drupes) which are borne in scarlet cup-like receptacles on scarlet stalks (pedicils). Its fruits mature in September.
- The Sassafras tree grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, acidic, loamy soils, but will tolerate dry, sandy soils.
- Pyramidal in youth; short contorted branches; flat topped, irregular rounded crown with age
- Sun to partial shade; moist, well drained soil
- Yellow, weakly fragrant flowers in April; male trees are more showy; dark blue drupes
- USA, NC
- Poison Part:
- Poison Delivery Mode:
- A weak carcinogen in experimental animals
- 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.
- Toxic Principle:
- CAUSES ONLY LOW TOXICITY IF EATEN
- Found in:
- Forest or natural area in thin woods, along fence rows, edge of woods, old fields; landscape as ornamental small tree
- 25-40 ft.
- Growth Rate:
- Moderate to rapid
- The alternate leaves of the Sassafras are variable, 4-7" long and appear in three shapes (ovate, mitten-shaped and three-lobed). They are bright green above and glaucous (albidum meaning white) below. Its fall colors of yellow, purple and red are a site to see. The leaves emit a sweet smelling fragrance when crushed.
NCCES plant id: 555