Sassy Tree or Tea?

With snow falling this morning for the first time this winter, I am finding it challenging to sit at a computer and write about Arbor Day trees. I want to get outside, and feel the snowflakes on my face, but duty calls and our snow shower is dwindling down to just a few isolated flakes anyway, so let’s talk about a new tree. One of the Arbor Day give-away trees is a favorite of mine and will be one of yours if you choose to plant it in your yard. The Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is native to eastern US forests and generally is an understory tree on the edges of woods but in ideal conditions can grow sixty feet tall and twenty-five feet in spread. There are so many neat facts about the Sassafras – where do I begin?

Speaking of beginning, a new snow shower is starting to share its time with us sprinkling snowflakes across my yard. Do you like root beer? Crush the leaves of a Sassafras and the fragrance will remind you of the popular soft drink. Although I believe the root beer essence is now produced artificially, it originally was produced from, you guessed it, Sassafras roots. Teas and cure-alls were produced from leaves, inner bark, and roots before advances in organic chemistry mimicked the Sassafras.

Leaves of the Sassafras actually come in four forms – a lance shaped simple leaf, a right handed thumb or mitten shape, a left handed variation, and a double thumbed mitten. All four can be growing on the same stem and if you are used to the sameness of oaks and maples, a first encounter with Sassafras leaves is a remarkable, unforgettable event.

Can you count the leaf variations?

When Fall arrives, those same variations can produce colorful combinations of yellow, red, purple, or orange. There must be some rhyme or reason for a particular color choice, but reasons are for scientists, and I just like to stand back and enjoy.

Name that color!
An Avian Favorite!
Sassafras blooms as the first leaves emerge. Perhaps I have been to interested in terrestrial wildflowers to notice these Springtime blossoms.

There is a Spring bloom but I don’t remember encountering one but I do remember the Fall fruit. Blue berries attract birds of all denominations and if you needed just one reason to select a Sassafras for your yard, this might be the one. I like bird visitors and birds like Sassafras berries. Perhaps the root beer flavor is enhanced! By the way, if you haven’t tried a root beer float with vanilla ice cream, you have missed a soda fountain favorite.

I think it is time I had a root beer float! Note that the bottle label says “Naturally and artificially flavored”.

In the landscape, choose a sunny, well drained location for maximum Fall color. Don’t plant next to your home as the Sassafras will encroach on your living space. It will grow up to two feet a year and needs to be pruned of base suckers and lower limbs early in its development for best shape achievement. Japanese Beetles find root beer aroma irresistible and follow chemical manufacturer recommendations carefully to get rid of these pests. Occasionally, tent caterpillars lodge in Sassafras branches and you may have to remove a branch completely. These minor drawbacks are more than offset by leaf structure, Fall color, and bird appeal and I can recommend a Sassafras tree if you can provide it with ample space.

Wow! Good drainage, full sun mean maximum color but maybe a little too close to the road.

2 thoughts on “Sassy Tree or Tea?

  1. Sassafras has always been one of my favorite trees…along w the sycamore tree.

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    1. Sycamore used to be the state tree of Indiana – now it’s the Yellow or Tulip Poplar. Dis you ever notice that Indiana State University’s athletic teams are the “Sycamores”?

      Like

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