Saturday, May 1, 2010



A family of 3 deciduous trees; the Sassafras prefers acid to neutral, light, deep, fertile, well drained soils in sun to partial shade though it can tolerate deeper shade as well. They need hot summers and grow poorly in western Europe. Deep and sparsely rooted; they should be transplanted only as containerized small trees when dormant
While they look great in the landscape as single trunk trees, they also occur with multiple trunks in the wild. They can be reproduced from seed, root cuttings or suckers. The seed is short lived and must be sown immediately upon ripening, or stratified for 3 months at 35 F.
Caution: Sassafras is not currently used in the production of Root Beer. Its roots contain Safrole which may contribute to liver cancer.

Sassafras albidum ( Sassafras )

Native to open woods and bottomlands in eastern North America ( from eastern Kansas to eastern Iowa to southern Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan to Saginaw, Michigan to Grand Bend, Ontario to Toronto, Ontario to central New York State to southern Maine; south to eastern Texas to northern Florida ); this is a medium to large size tree reaching up to 60 feet on average. On ideal sites it can grow fast to much larger sizes. Some records include: growth rate- 6 feet; first year - 4 feet; 3 yrs - 12 feet; 4 years - 15 feet; 20 years - 60 x 40 feet and the largest trees on record approach 133 x 100 feet with trunk diameters up to 7.4 feet. Suckers should be removed on ornamental trees and the Sassafras can sometimes grow into a thicket rather than a tree if allowed. Genetically some sucker and some not at all. It is a host food of the Spicebush Butterfly. A long lived tree; ages up to 300 or even 1000 years are recorded. The Sassafras is rarely bothered by pests including deer and is resistant to storms. In the Windsor/Essex County, Ontario region; it occurred abundantly both as clonal stands and individual large trees in southern Essex County from Harrow to Leamington and Wheatley during the 1800s. It was also abundant at Detroit, Michigan during that time. Sassafras was abundant on the Lake Erie islands and Ohio shore but declined considerably during the late 1800s due to harvesting for Sassafras oil.
The aromatic, untoothed, mitten shaped leaves are variable in shape being either elliptic or palmate with 2 or 3 round tipped lobes. They are up to 6 x 5 inches or more rarely 10 x 10 inches, bright green in spring turning to dark green above and downy, smooth, blue-green beneath. The foliage turns to purple, red and gold in autumn. The leafstalks are up to 2 inches.
The flowers are yellowish, up to 0.33 inches and without petals in 2 inch racemes in spring. They are borne on separate plants in early spring before the foliage.
The late summer 0.5 inch, egg shaped, deep blue berries are an important food for wildlife and are loved by bluebirds, catbirds, robins, thrushes and videos.
The red brown bark is thick and furrowed. Termites rarely bother the wood since they do not like the aroma.
The roots of the Sassafras have been used commercially in the production of root beer and perfumes. Sassafras in the U.S. has been banned for use in making rootbeer by the FDA which claims it can cause liver damage. The wood is up to 32 pounds per square foot. This is not the Sassafras used in the production of MDMA.
Hardy zones 4 to 9 in full sun to partial shade on acidic, well drained soil. Not very tolerant of compaction, salt, droughts, or pollution. Maintenance issues are rare, they are not bothered by pests or disease. Planting within a mowed lawn can eliminate the suckering though not all trees sucker.
Young plants may require some training and pruning to develop a good habit.
Sassafras trees are variable so it is recommended to grow them from seed originating from a stand that you find attractive that is within your climate zone

* photo taken on March 25 in Clarksville, MD

* photos taken on April 10 in Clarksville, MD

* photos taken on April 18 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

* photos of unknown internet source of U.S. champ in Kentucky

* photos taken on Aug 3 2011 in Luzerne Co, PA

* photo taken on June 23 2013 @ U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC

* photos taken on Oct 31 2013 @ Hampton Ntl Historic Site, Towson, MD

* photos taken on July 24 2014 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on Oct 21 2014 @ Smithsonian Inst., Washington, DC

* photo taken on June 9 2015 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on Oct 19 2015 in Howard Co., MD

* photos taken on Aug 13 2016 in Reisterstown, MD

* photos taken on Aug 29 2016 in Luzerne Co., PA

* photos taken on Sep 18 2016 @ Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, MD

* photo taken on Sep 25 2016 near Reisterstown, MD

* photos taken on Apr 14 2017 @ Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, MD

* photo taken on Apr 28 2017 in Ellicott City, MD

* photo taken on July 7 2017 in Ellicott City, MD

* photos taken on Nov 5 2017 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on May 30 2018 in Columbia, MD

* sassafras in Port Stanley, ON

* photos of unknown internet source

* photo taken by H. Lanks @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* historical archive photos

* photo of Laurel Wilt disease affecting Sassafras

Sassafras hesparia

native to Washington state & British Columbia before the last Ice Age. Long extinct and known from fossils only

Sassafras randainse ( Taiwanese Sassafras )

An extremely rare tree native to temperate regions in China that can reach up to 60 feet in height with a trunk up to 3 feet in diameter. The Taiwanese Sassafras is fast growing. The foliage is up to 6 inches in length

Sassafras tzumu ( Chinese Sassafras )

A very rare, very fast growing, large ornamental tree native to central China; this tree is little known in the U.S. Reaching 50 feet or more, the maximum growth rate is likely 7 feet and it can reach 40 feet in only 10 years. The maximum potential size is probably about 130 x 100 feet with a trunk up to 8 feet.
The very shiny leaves with red veins are up to 8 inches in length. The fall color ranges anywhere from yellow to red.
The buds are large up to 0.5 inches in length.
An excellent timber tree. Its hardiness is uncertain ( est. 7 to 9 ) but it does require a hot humid summer as occurs in the eastern U.S. ( survival in cooler western Europe is not likely )


  1. Do you know if all of these are covered under Laurus sassafras?

    Thanks in advance!


  2. Yes; I've never heard of it referred to as Laurel Sassafras in the landscape trade. Interestingly Sassafras is part of the much larger Laurel family which includes California Laurel and Bay Laurel ( Laurus nobilis ). All of the Sassafras are likely medicinally similar to each other though the Asian species are endangered ( centuries of habitat loss and a small natural range to begin with ) and too rare to be of commercial value.