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Sassafras albidum

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Kemper Code:  I820

Common Name: sassafras
Zone: 4 to 9
Plant Type: Tree
Family: Lauraceae
Missouri Native: Yes
Native Range: Eastern North America
Height: 30 to 60 feet
Spread: 25 to 40 feet
Bloom Time: April - May   Bloom Data
Bloom Color: Greenish-yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium

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Plant Culture and Characteristics

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  Uses:       Wildlife:   Flowers:   Leaves:   Fruit:
Hedge Suitable as annual Attracts birds Has showy flowers Leaves colorful Has showy fruit
Shade tree Culinary herb Attracts Has fragrant flowers Leaves fragrant Fruit edible
Street tree Vegetable   hummingbirds Flowers not showy Good fall color   Other:
Flowering tree Water garden plant Attracts Good cut flower Evergreen Winter interest
Gr. cover (<1') Will naturalize   butterflies Good dried flower     Thorns or spines

General Culture:

Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, acidic, loamy soils. Tolerates dry, sandy soils. Large taproot makes transplanting of established trees difficult. If root suckers are not removed, tree will spread and begin to take on the appearance of a large multi-stemmed shrub.

Noteworthy Characteristics:

Sassafras is a Missouri native, ornamental, small to medium-sized deciduous tree which occurs in wood margins, fence rows, fields, thickets and roadsides. Shrubby in youth, but matures to a dense, pyramidal tree up to 60' tall. Spreads by root suckers to form large colonies in the wild. All of the trees in a colony may rise from the same parent. Dioecious (separate male and female trees). Attractive, greenish-yellow flowers appear in clusters at the branch ends in spring. Flowers on female trees (if pollinated) give way to small pendant clusters of bluish-black berries (drupes) which are borne in scarlet cup-like receptacles on scarlet stalks (pedicils). Fruits mature in September. Variable, 4-7" long leaves in three shapes (ovate, mitten-shaped and three-lobed) are bright green above and glaucous (albidum meaning white) below. Excellent yellow, purple and red fall color. To Native Americans, sassafras oils were freely used in tonics as medical panaceas. Culinary uses have included: sassafras tea (bark), root beer flavoring (root oil) and a gumbo-thickening agent called filé (stem pith). More recently, sassafras oils have been determined to contain a carcinogenic substance (safrole) and many of the former uses for the oils are now banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


No serious insect or disease problems. Leaves may turn yellow while veins remain green (chlorosis) in alkaline soils.


Excellent for naturalized plantings or screens where they are given lots of space to colonize. Also can be grown as lawn specimens.

© Missouri Botanical Garden, 2001-2011

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