Sassafrass (Sassafras albidum)
Sassafras is native to North America and unusually its range includes the northern Caribbean area. This tree is unique because all parts of the Sassafras are aromatic, smelling like root beer. In fact all truly reputable recipes for real root beer (before artificial flavorings) must include oils produced from the roots of Sassafras. The American Indians and early settlers used this amazing tree for a great many medicinal purposes. Although it is not a valuable lumber tree, sassafras has been famous since the pioneer days for sassafras tea that is reputed to have many medicinal benefits besides tasting very good.

Basic Information
SpeciesSizeBasic Requirements
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)At 20 years height is 25’ and the spread is 20’ Mature height is 30 to 60’ with a spread of 25 to 40’. Growth rate is medium to fast at 12 to 18 inches per year.Zones (4) 5 through 8 (9A), full sun or part shade, moist acidic soils are preferred but will tolerate drier soils.

Sassafras is a medium to large, irregular looking, suckering tree. When young it is pyramidal in shape but as it matures it becomes more rounded. Sassafras saplings have smooth, orange-brown bark but the trunk becomes deeply furrowed in larger trees. Sassafras grows fast even in poor soil. In a good, sunny spot, sassafras can grow 4' tall the first year and 15' in four years.

The aromatic leaves may be lobed, with two or three lobes, or no lobes. The two lobed leaves look like mittens with the smaller lobe taking on the appearance of a thumb. Four different leaf shapes can be found on one sassafras tree - three lobed, elliptical, two lobed/right side, and two lobed/left side The deciduous leaves can grow up to six inches by four inches. Come fall the leaves turn a very striking orange/pink, yellow/red, or even a scarlet/purple in the cooler months of autumn. Richer fall colors are displayed on trees grown in the full sun and in the northern part of the growing region.

Trees can begin flowering when only 10 years old. Before the leaves appear, sometime in late March or early April, fragrant yellow male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. They are one to two inch long panicles. Later the females bear extremely attractive fruit that ripens in August or September to dark blue and sits on bright red stems. The fruit is about the size of a pea.

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