Sassafras Tree

Botanical Name: Sassafras albidum

The Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) is a small to medium sized deciduous tree. It has a shrubby form as a juvenile and grows into a dense pyramidal shape as it matures. This tree will easily spread by root suckers forming clones of the original tree. However, if the suckers are removed from the base, it is easy to maintain as a single Sassafras tree. 

The Sassafras tree is found growing on the edges of woodlands in eastern North America. It grows to a height of 30-60 feet with a spread of 25-40 feet.

Its roots and bark have been used to make oil that perfumes soap, as well as adding a distinctive flavor to root beer and tea. Sassafras is the name given to the tree by the indigenous people of the region.

The leaves of the Sassafras are variable but have distinctive shapes. They can either be oval, mitten-shaped, or form 3 lobes. The foliage measures approximately 4-7 inches in length and is bright green on top with white undersides. The leaves turn a vibrant deep red or orange in the fall, providing a stunning autumn display.

The attractive mahogany colored bark of the Sassafras tree forms vertical ridges and furrows.

The Sassafras can grow as either a male or female tree. Both male and female flowers are drooping catkins that are yellowish green and put on a showy display in the spring, hanging down at the ends of branches. Female blooms, when pollinated, are followed by clusters of small, deep blue-black drupes that hang on bright red stalks.

The leaves of the Sassafras tree can exhibit chlorosis if planted in soil that is too alkaline. Besides this, the tree does not have any significant problems. It is allelopathic – its roots exude an oil that will prevent other plants from growing close to it.

Height: 30-60 ft.

Width: 25-40 ft.

Shape: Pyramidal

Flower Color: Yellowish-Green

Flowering Time: April-May

Fall Color: Red, Orange

Features: Showy fruit and flowers

Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade

Watering: Moderate & Regular

Soil: Prefers acidic, well-drained, moist loam soils. Tolerates wet or dry sandy soils.

Growth Rate: Moderate-fast

USDA Zones: 4-9

Uses: Lawn tree, screening tree, woodland tree

Similar trees: Asimina triloba (Paw Paw), Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory), Juglans nigra (Black Walnut)

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