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Tree of the Month: Sassafras

By Len Phillips, ASLA Emeritus


Common Name: Sassafras

Botanical Name: Sassafras albidum

Family: Lauraceae

Parentage: Native

Height: 30 to 60 feet

Spread: 25 to 40 feet

Form: Pyramidal, irregular

Flower: Yellow, slightly fragrant, beautiful when observed up close, 1 to 2 inches long

Fruit: Drupe is 1/2-inch long, dark blue on red stem, handsome up close

Foliage: Smooth leaves have one, two or three lobes on yellowish-green stem

Spring Color: Pale yellowish-green flowers, stems and young leaves

Summer Foliage: Medium green

Autumn Foliage: Yellow to orange to scarlet to purple, outstanding for fall color

Winter Color: Handsome bark and tree form in winter

Bark: Dark reddish-brown, ridged and furrowed with corky ridges


All photos provided by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Eastern half of the United States

Culture: Moist, acidic soil

Hardiness Zone*: 4 – 9

Growth Rate: Full size in less than 30 years

Pest Resistance: Free of major pest problems

Storm Resistance: Good

Salt Resistance: Good

Planting: Transplant B&B or container, difficult due to tap root and few lateral roots

Pruning: Keep sucker growth removed if single stem tree is desired

Propagating: Seeds or root cuttings in winter

Design Uses: Excellent for naturalizing a street or residential landscape

Companions: Best in Sassafras thicket

Site Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Other Comments: Roots are used to make tea and oil

Available From: Most nurseries that specialize in native plants


* For information about the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, visit www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/index.html


These are the personal observations of the author, living in New England <dash> Zone 5b. Len Phillips can be reached via e-mail at lenphillips@on-line-seminars.com

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