Friday, October 19, 2018
Sassafras - Sassafras albidum
The Sassafras - Sassafras albidum is a member of the Laurel family. Having only three varieties, two of which are native to China and Taiwan, and the other is native to the Eastern portion of the United States. Spreading by suckers growing from the roots, in it's natural habitat it is commonly found growing along the woods edge and fields or as the under story of a forest.
Image Citation: (Photo 1) USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, SRS, Bugwood.org & (Photo 2) The Dow Gardens Archive, Dow Gardens, Bugwood.org
The fruit from the Sassafras is blue in color when mature starting at clear and red when young. Growing from red stems the fruit grow in an almost ornamental pattern. The fruit/berries are a favorite of small birds such as Finches in the Spring and Summer. Like the American Holly, the Sassafras is dioecious, meaning the pistallate and staminate flowers mostly grow on different trees.
Image Citation: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry Archive, Bugwood.org
The Sassafras tree has a unique scent that is recognizable even before the tree is in view, the oil that produces the scent is in the roots, the leaves and even the bark of the tree. Teas can be made by steeping the roots of the tree-Native American are recorded to have used this tea to treat many ailments. The oil was also used as the flavoring for traditional Root Beer prior to it's use being banned by the FDA in 1960 because of the Safrole found in the oil was thought to be a possible carcinogen. This banned was reversed partially in 1994 but new restrictions were put into place to be sure that the Safrole was removed prior to human consumption . File Powder, is a spicy herb made from dried and ground leaves. It was traditionally used by Native Americans in the South, and was adopted into Creole cuisine in Louisiana as a very commonly used ingredient.
Image Citations (Left & Right Photos): Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org
The foliage of the Sassafras is very unique having as many as three varying type of leaves. The leaves can vary from single lobes, double lobed or mitten shaped to triple lobed. They are green in color during the growing season and in the fall put on a very beautiful show. The leaves will vary in color in the fall from Yellow, Orange, Scarlet and Crimson.