Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Grows in moist, open woods, often colonizing roadsides and abandoned fields.

  • Range

    Throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

  • Status

    Stable

The sassafras is a medium-sized, deciduous tree with bright green, mitten-like leaves. It grows in moist, open woods throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance

The sassafras has bright green, mitten-like leaves with 2 to 3 lobes. Young leaves are reddish-pink and turn green as they grow. Leaves change to yellow, orange or red in autumn. The bark is reddish-brown and deeply ridged. Young trees have greenish-tinged bark. Fragrant, greenish-yellow flowers bloom in April to June. Sassafras can grow to 50 feet tall.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

In late summer, trees produce small, dark blue, oval-shaped fruits on top of bright red, cup-like stalks. Songbirds and small mammals scatter the seeds. Trees begin producing seeds when they are 10 years old. After that, they fruit once a year or every other year.

Did You Know?

  • Native Americans valued sassafras for its medicinal purposes, using parts of the tree to treat fever, diarrhea, measles, coughs, indigestion, nausea and colds.
  • Leaves can be used as a spice to add flavor to foods and soups.
  • Sassafras heartwood is often used in boat construction because it is light and durable.
  • Songbirds and small mammals such as squirrels like to eat sassafras fruits.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Grows in moist, open woods, often colonizing roadsides and abandoned fields.

  • Range

    Throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

  • Status

    Stable