Plants of New Jersey # 19 Sassafras

Young Sassafras Tree

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras can grow up to 80 feet but usually is found as a small tree growing to 50 feet. It’s wetland indicator status is FACU which means that most of the time you will find this tree growing in uplands. The tree is part of the Laurel family of plants. The tree can grow in shade but does not thrive until a disturbance opens the forest canopy. It is typically found in forest edges, roadsides and old fields. The tree is a cloning plant where new trees are grown from its roots.

Sassafras Leaves

The tree is unique for a few reasons. One: Sassafras has three different types of leaves (especially younger trees). The leaves can be three lobed, mitten shaped or not have any lobes at all. The tree has green to yellowish flowers that appear between April and June. The second reason is the pleasant aroma the tree emits especially when scraping a twig. The tree is known to have cancer causing qualities so do not eat any of this plant. Berries are purple on red stems and ripen between September and October. Birds known to eat the berries include:

White-Tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontail are known to browse the tree as well.

Sassafras in the Fall

The tree, along with Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), are host to the Spicebush Caterpillar.

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5 thoughts on “Plants of New Jersey # 19 Sassafras

  1. Plantlust

    A couple more missing details. Sassafras albidum is dioecious, meaning male/female flowers are on different plants. The drupes/fruit will only be found on the female trees. Sassafras has stunning fall color of red/orange and yellow! The powered dried leaves are used as file powder in gumbo and the root has been used to make a spring tea/tonic and was the flavoring used in traditional “rootbeer” until a 1960 study that concluded that safrole oil causes cancer.

    I’ve met several Brits who can’t understand the American obsession with rootbeer soda as that flavor is associated w/medicine. Sassafras was a HUGE medicinal export to Europe during colonial times.

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