Sassafras Tree: Leaves, Flowers, Bark (Pictures) – Identification Guide

The leaves of sassafras trees are heavily lobed, clusters of golden-yellow blooms emerge, and the berries look like blue berries. Aromatic trees, such as the Sassafras, are common. The leaves emit a strong fragrance in the autumn when the foliage becomes spectacular orange, scarlet, yellow, and purple colors.

The flowers have a root beer scent in the spring. The common Sassafras albidum grows to 30 to 60 feet (9 to 18 meters) tall and 25 to 40 feet (7.6 to 12 meters) wide, making it a fast-growing tree.

In landscapes, sassafras tree species are fairly easy to distinguish. The aromatic leaves feature distinct patterns and give off a citrusy fragrance. The lobes on the sassafras leaves range in number from two to five, and they may be oval or lobed. The identification of species of native sassafras trees is discussed in this article.

Sassafras leaves, bark, flowers, and fruit may be recognized by pictures and descriptions. These gorgeous ornamental medium-sized trees are easy to identify.

Sassafras Tree Facts

Sassafras albidum, Sassafras randaiense, and Sassafras tzumu are the three types of sassafrases found in North America and Asia. Trees’ aromatic qualities and unusual leaf forms are two characteristics that distinguish them. The shrub-like tree, on the other hand, has suckering tendencies and may develop into a multi-stemmed shrub in a hurry.

USDA zones 4 to 9 are ideal for Sassafras albidum trees with numerous roots. On the east coast of the United States, these trees are common. From Rhode Island to the northern parts of Florida and east to Texas and Iowa, they thrive in open woodlands and well-drained soils. Full sun to partial shade is ideal for Sassafras trees. Sassafras trees thrive in acidic, well-drained soil in garden landscapes.

Trees grow at a rapid pace under ideal circumstances, reaching at least 12″ (30 cm) per year.  Sassafras randaiense and Sassafras albidum reach heights of 30 to 60 feet (9 to 18 meters). Izumi, which grows to 115 feet (35 meters) in height, is native to eastern Asia.

A pyramidal or spherical crown is seen in mature sassafras trees. The sassafras tree may grow into a huge shrub because its taproots spread via suckers. Sassafras colonies in open woodlands are frequently linked to the same parent tree and can be seen throughout the area.

Sassafras Leaves

The simplest way to identify this deciduous tree is by looking at its leaves, which are Sassafras. Oval, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed Sassafras leaves exist. Between 3″ and 7″ (7.5 – 18 cm) wide, medium-sized leaves grow up to 4″ (10 cm) high. When crushed, the yellow-green leaves release a strong lemon odor.

Sassafras trees have polymorphic leaves, which means that each tree might has foliage in various forms. The most prevalent leaf form is three-lobed. Five- or seven-lobed leaves can be found on some sassafras trees.

The foliage of the sassafras tree may be divided into three categories: unlobed, bilobed, and trilobed. The leaves become spectacular brilliant hues of orange, red, yellow, and purple before they fall.

Sassafras Flowers

Female Sassafras tree blossoms (left) and male Sassafras tree blossoms (right) are shown in close-up photographs. In early spring, the greenish-yellow flower clusters at the ends of branch tips last for a few weeks. Pollinated female blossoms turn into black berry-like drupes that cluster together.

Sassafras Bark

In immature trees, Sassafras bark is a lovely red-brown color with interlacing furrows and ridges that becomes more pronounced as it ages. When cut, the bark has a powerful aromatic scent, as it does in other parts of the tree. Sassafras trees have a beautiful reddish-gray bark that distinguishes them in winter landscapes.

Sassafras Fruit

An image of Sassafras’ juvenile fruit from a close distance. The crimson stems of sassafras trees produce clusters of blue-black drupes, each with a single seed. Clusters of flowers give way to red cup-like receptacles holding blackish-blue drupes after they have bloomed in the spring.

During the summer, the Sassafras fruit on the tree lasts. Deer, tiny animals, and birds are drawn to the tree for food, so the delicious fruits are popular with them.

Sassafras Seeds

A solitary seed is surrounded by pulpy flesh in every blue sassafras drupe. The seeds are usually spread by birds. After being sown in the ground or falling to the ground, Sassafras seeds usually germinate the following spring. Sassafras tree seeds need rich, loamy soil that is moist in order to sprout under ideal conditions.

The tree grows quickly after seeds sprout in full sun, reaching 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height in just one year. A sassafras tree grows to be around 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall four years after germination. Without the suckers, a sassafras shrub will form if the dense thicket is not removed.

Sassafras Tree Identification

The distinctive aromatic leaves, yellow star-shaped blossoms, and reddish-gray bark of the Sassafras tree identify it. The mitten-shaped or three-lobed green-yellowish leaves are an easily recognized tree feature. Crushing the leaves or cutting the bark of sassafras trees to detect a powerful lemony odor may also be used to recognize them. A sassafras tree is likely to have differently shaped leaves, if you notice them on a tree.

Where Sassafras Trees Grow

Sassafras trees thrive on rich, well-drained loamy soil in open woodlands. Throughout the central and eastern US, deciduous native trees are abundant. Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana), beech (Fagus grandifolia), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees are often found near sassafras trees.

What is Sassafras Used For?

Sassafras was commonly utilized in North American traditional medicine and has several culinary applications. Sassafras was the root beer’s most essential flavor ingredient and gave it its particularly distinct taste. The distinctive flavor of Louisiana Creole food comes from crushed sassafras leaves used to thicken gumbo.

Due to its suspected carcinogenic qualities, sassafras root oil has been discontinued from traditional root beer since the 1960s. Safrole (which is present in sassafras oil) has been linked to cancer, as well as renal and hepatic diseases, according to studies.

Herbal remedies derived from sassafras, on the other hand, do not contain any quantifiable amounts of safrole, according to a 1997 research. If taken in high enough doses, safrole may harm people and animals.

About Sassafras Albidum

The most widely distributed sassafras species in North America is Sassafras albidum. White sassafras, red sassafras, or silky sassafras are some of the names for this medium-sized deciduous tree. Sassafras albidum grows to be 50–60 feet (15–20 meters) tall with a 40-foot (12-meter) wide pyramidal crown.

The three leaf forms of sassafras albidum are egg-shaped, two-lobed like mittens, and three-lobed leaves. When crushed, the leaves have a lemon-like smell.

In Sassafras albidum trees, it’s unusual to find leaves with more than three lobes. Silky sassafras trees brighten to rich reds, pinks, oranges, and purples in the fall. Bright yellow six-petaled blooms hang in loose clusters early in the spring season. Pollinated Sassafras blooms turn blackish-blue drupes in dangling clusters after blooming for two or three weeks. It has a reddish-brown bark with deep furrows and an aromatic, citrusy fragrance.

Growing Sassafras in a Container

In a paved yard, balcony, or container garden, Sassafras trees may flourish in containers. The tree’s development will be limited by the pot’s size, and it will need to be trimmed on a regular basis to stay healthy. Planting in rich, well-drained soil and exposing to indirect light will help you grow a potted sassafras tree.

Water the top layer of potting soil whenever it appears dry to ensure that the sassafras thrives. A bushier shrub-like tree can be created by regular pruning in the spring. Sassafras performs better in moist but not soggy soil, despite the fact that it is drought-tolerant.

How to Care for Sassafras Trees

Let’s examine the finest way to maintain a sassafras tree in a garden setting in more detail.

Where to Plant Sassafras Tree

Sassafras trees should be planted in full sun to partial shade. The foliage thrives and the tree blossoms every spring if there is at least six hours of sunlight each day. In well-drained, loamy soil with partial shade, Sassafras trees thrive. To get the most vibrant fall colors, planting a sassafras tree in full sun is also important.

Sassafras trees are ideal for beginners because they grow easily in most soil types. Clay, sandy soil, loam, and acidic soils are ideal growing conditions for them. Excellent drainage is critical for establishing sassafras trees. If the tree’s taproots grow in moist circumstances, they are prone to rot and decomposition. As a specimen or shade tree, Sassafras trees thrive best. If you want an informal hedge or summer privacy screen in your backyard, however, you can allow suckers to grow.

How to Water Sassafras Tree

During the spring and summer, sassafras trees need to be watered on a regular basis. If the earth dries out, it might be necessary to water it twice or three times per week. In addition, to aid the development of a healthy root system, young sassafras trees need frequent watering.

Sassafras trees are drought-tolerant plants that have been established. Check the ground for moisture to determine when it’s time to water a sassafras tree in your garden. You may postpone watering for a couple of days if the soil appears wet. Next, make sure that the deepest roots are well hydrated by giving the ground a thorough soaking.

Too much water can harm the growth of many trees that are drought tolerant. Only water the tree when the ground is dry, as a general rule. During the winter, it is rarely necessary to water the plant.

Sassafras Tree Growing Zone, Temperature, and Humidity

Sassafras trees grow in USDA zones 4 through 9 in full sun or partial shade and are cold-hardy trees. Roots with huge, deep taproots can survive temperatures as low as -30°F (-34°C). Also, protecting the sassafras trees from the wind is a great idea.

Protection of the root zone with mulch is critical to ensure that a sassafras tree survives winter. Under the tree’s canopy, apply a thick layer of wood mulch, pine needles, or a mulch alternative. Leave a 2″ (5 cm) gap between the tree and the mulch to avoid root rot.

Mulching keeps weeds at bay and prevents the ground from freezing down to the roots. High humidity tolerance is also a characteristic of Sassafras trees. Nevertheless, you should ensure adequate air flow between the leaves to prevent fungal foliage diseases.

How to Plant Sassafras Tree

Select the brightest location in your yard with excellent drainage to grow a sassafras tree. Dig a hole that is three times the root ball size and just a little bit shallower than the root ball. Make sure the sassafras root ball is 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the soil line before placing it in the hole.

Fill the hole with soil by backfilling the remaining space and pressing it down. To eliminate any air pockets, thoroughly water the location. It’s worth noting that the taproot system of an established sassafras tree makes transplanting difficult.

Sassafras Tree Fertilization

To encourage healthy foliage, blossom plentiful flowers, and abundant fruits, established sassafras trees need to be fertilized twice a year. In February and mid-summer, apply a balanced fertilizer that is suitable for all purposes. When the tree isn’t producing enough leaves, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage thick leaf development.

Before applying a particular fertilizer to concentrate nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium, it’s always a good idea to test the soil for nutrient shortages.

Pruning Sassafras Tree

Sassafras trees seldom need to be pruned. Cutting back young tree branches in the winter, on the other hand, helps to build a firm branch structure. To keep the ornamental tree’s lovely look, remove dead and broken branches with mature trees. Before winter, trim the branches of a sassafras tree shrub to encourage bushy development and limit its height if you want to maintain its size.

How to Propagate Sassafras Tree

Root cuttings are the simplest and quickest way to grow sassafras trees. Dig a 12″ (30 cm) diameter hole 20″ (50 cm) deep near the tree’s base in early spring or winter. Look for roots with multiple sprouts from one of the roots. Next, snip a 3″ to 6″ (7.5 – 15 cm) long piece with razor-sharp pruning shears.

Move the root cuttings into a container filled with sand and keep them moist after they have been taken. You can move the tree to your garden when the danger of frost has passed once new growth emerges. Harvesting, then germinating the seeds is another technique of spreading sassafras trees.

If you want to find suckers with their own root system, try searching for them some distance from the main tree. The least effective technique of multiplying a sassafras tree is to transplant suckers.

Pests and Diseases Affecting Sassafras Tree Growth

Sassafras are sturdy trees that can withstand a variety of insects. Nonetheless, huge green silkmoth caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and sassafras weevils are among the pests that may harm a sassafras tree’s development. Because sassafras trees are related to the laurel family, laurel wilt can affect them.

When redbay ambrosia beetles tunnel into the tree, a fungal infection develops. A sassafras tree can die as a result of fungal infection if it is not treated soon.

Roots rot due to overwatering may impede a sassafras tree’s development. Yellowing leaves and a darkened band line around the soil line are signs that the tree is receiving too much water or that the ground drainage is poor.


Is Sassafras a good tree for gardens?

The beauty and characteristics of a garden are improved by Sassafras trees. The tree has a lovely citrus odor that pervades throughout all sections. When in bloom, the yellow blooms also have a root beer scent. The sassafras tree, which has yearly appeal, is ideal for gardens.

Large, oddly shaped leaves provide plenty of shade in the summer. Due to its red, orange, purple, and yellow leaves, the sassafras tree becomes one of the most appealing trees in a garden when the leaves turn color in the fall. The gorgeous form of the sassafras tree and its reddish-gray bark are a welcome sight in the winter.

Is Sassafras easy to grow?

The surface root system and deep taproot of sassafras trees pose little risk to nearby buildings, making them simple to cultivate. The tree multiplies via suckers and grows at a pace of up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) each year. Sassafras trees are drought tolerant, heat tolerant, cold tolerant, and humidity tolerant once they have been established. The trees don’t even need to be trimmed.

Leave a Comment