Friday, January 16, 2015

Four Seasons of Sassafras

I've written before about the fascinating history of the North American native Sassafras Tree, how it became a medicinal fad for Europeans who thought it a cure for STD's, and how it's used as a flavoring for homemade root beer, tea, and gumbo.  But beyond its cool history, I love my Sassafras albidum just because they are some of the prettiest trees in my yard, all year-round.

In Spring they are one of the first plants to flower, making it a food source for early pollinators.

Spring
Their Summer leaves serve as food for the caterpillars of several different moths and butterflies, including the Spicebush Swallowtail and Tiger Swallowtail.  

Summer
Sassafras has several really awesome nicknames.  A couple nicknames are based on its uses as a flavoring, such as 'the Tea Tree' and 'Cinnamonwood'.  My favorite nickname for Sassafras, however, is 'the Mitten Tree'.  Sassafras has three differently shaped leaves, one of which is shaped like a mitten, which makes the tree easy to identify!

Sassafras leaves
Like Hollies, Sassafras are dioecious, which means they have separate male and female trees.  The female trees produce berries in late summer, which the birds enjoy.

Late Summer
It's hard to pick which season Sassafras Trees look most beautiful in, but it might be Fall.


The colors are simply gorgeous.

Fall
But I think the time I appreciate the Sassafras Trees in my yard the most is during Winter.  There's not a whole lot going on in my yard in Winter, but the bare branches of the Sassafras in my back yard have an amazing structural beauty.

Winter
The branches twist and curve, crookedly drawn lines that form a beautiful silhouette.

Winter
Sassafras trees do not transplant very well due to its taproot, but you can get smaller-sized saplings from native nurseries and online.   They do sucker into a grove, but can be grown as a single tree if the suckers are removed for the first few years.  They often grow in open woods, but they are also a pioneer species, one of the first to grow after a fire or in abandoned fields.


Some more stats on Sassafras
Native Range: Eastern North America
Planting Zones: 4 - 9
Height: 30 - 60 ft. (10 - 20 m.)
Spread: 25 - 40 ft. (7 - 12 m.)
Sun: Full sun - Part shade
Soil: prefers moist, acidic, loamy soil
Tolerates: poor, dry, sandy, or clay soil

I love my 'Mitten Trees' in all their forms.  I must admit, however, that as beautiful as the bare branches are now, I am looking forward to seeing the Sassafras Tree branches heralding in Spring with their yellow flowers.


Aren't they pretty?

31 comments:

  1. Yes! They are fabulous! I added one to our garden last year. I'm not sure if it is a male/female. I hope to get another this year of the opposite kind so we can get some berries growing. I love that it has three different leaf shapes. Great post!

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    1. I know you'll enjoy them in your garden. They are such beautiful trees!

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  2. I have wanted a sassafras tree in my garden for years. I tried transplanting one and as you point out that didn't work. I never noticed the beautiful flowers before. They look a lot like spicebush. I will have to look harder for a small specimen in the spring.

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    1. That's too bad it didn't transplant well for you. I've heard it's really hard to transplant a sapling that's already in the ground. Maybe a really small one or a little one from a nursery? Sassafras is related to Spicebush. I think I have some Spicebushes growing in the wild parts of my yard, but I didn't notice the blooms last Spring. This Spring I'll have to check them out!

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  3. I have several Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which has very similar flowers. It's also a host for the Spicebush Swallowtail, so I imagine these plants are closely related. The fall color on the Sassafras in your photos looks much superior to the Spicebush, however.

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    1. They are related. I think I have some Spicebush in my woods, but I haven't especially noticed them in fall, unlike the Sassafras. The Sassafras colors are such a beautiful mix of deep red, brilliant orange, and golden!

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  4. I so like them in spring too with the delicate flowers. It is coincidental that I ran across an image from summer of the leaves in the rain today. The leaves make a nice garden addition too.

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    1. My larger Sassafras trees have a nice spreading canopy, with the lower branches more bare. It makes for a lovely tree. I do wonder how much they would sucker if planted in a nice garden bed, as it would really look lovely there.

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  5. Yes, they are pretty! Yours has a lovely shape. I know I have Sassafras trees on my property, because I have seen those leaves. I am going to take another look at my woodland area to determine exactly where they are.

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    1. The leaves make it so nice and easy to identify! Even the look of the trunk and branches are quite different than the other trees in my woods, and now I've learned to figure out which trees are Sassafras even in winter. Such an unusual but pretty tree!

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  6. These are truly beautiful trees! The mature leaves look like dinosaur toes. :o)

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    1. Ha, I never thought about that before, but you are right! My kids would love that comparison - I sense another tree nickname coming on!

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  7. Not a tree I'd come across until now, but they really are lovely. Trees that have interest in more than one season are so worth the space they take up, but that one especially.

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    1. The more seasons a plant can look pretty in, the better! It is so nice that the Sassafras still looks good in the garden when not as many other plants do. I would say it looks the worst in late summer, as the leaves can sometimes get a little chewed up. But that is the price for having moths and butterflies in the garden :)

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  8. Beautiful tree with wonderful flowers.
    It is very similar to Hamamelis virginiana.
    Now winter blooms beautifully.
    I wish you a nice week.
    Greetings.

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    1. Hamamelis virginiana is another plant I would love in the garden at some point!

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  9. I had no idea these were hardy -- they sound like a southern tree.They might like more acid soil than I have though. Thanks for pointing out the advantages of the Sassafras tree to us! -Beth

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    1. My soil is pretty acidic. Sassafras don't like alkaline soil, so if you have that you'd probably have to amend the soil much like for blueberries. They do grow up North in the cold though!

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  10. That is one stunning tree, no matter what the season! I love the way the branches twirl, and move in different directions. And it's hardy here, but I can't ever remember coming across them in our nurserys. Something to look for definitely.

    Jen

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    1. I've never seen them at a local nursery either. There is probably not a huge market for them, so you'd have to go to a specialty native nursery or look online. I wonder if not as many people sell them because you can only transplant them when small.

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  11. Great tree! I agree it's fabulous in any season. I can see adding one to my garden at some point. Truly a tree full of character!

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    1. The twisty branches definitely make for lots of character! I love having it in my yard.

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  12. Yes, the flowers are really pretty, and unusual too! Funny there are so many plants that are called ‘Tea Tree’, I have just bought 3 manuka honey bushes – they are also called ‘Tea tree’ ! The autumn leaves are really pretty, thanks for all the info, really enjoyed that as this is a plant I didn’t know much about.

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    1. That is funny! Probably people in different areas called whatever tree they used to make tea the 'Tea Tree'. I do wish I liked tea. I might have to try Sassafras tea sometime just to taste it anyway.

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  13. Thanks for all this great info--I knew nothing about the sassafras tree before. Your photos certainly make it appealing, a tree that looks beautiful in all seasons.

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    1. Thanks! It has such a fascinating history too. People used it for all sorts of things!

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  14. I can see why you love your 'Mitten Tree'. It has everything. I really like those berries and the autumn color is magnificent.

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    1. The berries are really quite striking, though small and not very noticeable with all the summer leaves. The birds enjoy them, though!

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  15. I see your little stone bench happily settled in a pretty new home.

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    1. Yes, we definitely had to take that with us! The movers thought we were kind of nuts as I made them drag those stone pieces out there, though :)

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  16. I am looking for a new native tree and this is just too cool not to consider....so it goes on the list. Quite a stunner.

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