Sassafras

Sassafras_jpgThis family, Lauraceae is commonly known as the Laurel family.  There is only one species of sassafras in the USA. Sassafras root bark yields orange dye.  The plant yields oil for flavoring and in the manufacture of soaps and perfumes.  The young shoots and roots can be prepared to make a “root beer” or tea. The odor of the wood was said to drive away bedbugs; hence beds were made of it.  Chicken roosts were made of sassafras to keep out chicken lice. Sassafras was one of the first exports of Captain John Smith from the Jamestown colony.  In 1610 it was demanded from Virginia, like a tribute, as a condition of the charter of the colony.  Many ships were loaded with this tree and shipped to England in the early 1600s.  During these times Sassafras was thought to be a cure-all tonic that would prolong life and cure various maladies. Native Americans believed that this plant with strong pleasant odor would ward off evil spirits associated with illness. The fruit is eaten by various birds in the fall.  The kingbird, crested flycatcher and phoebe, all members of the flycatcher family and all subsist primarily on insects, eat sassafras fruits.

OtherCommonName:

Saxifraxtree, Sassafac, Aguetree

ScientificName:

Sassafras albidum

Community:

Thicket

PlantStatus:

Native

LifeSpan:

Woody plant; tree

PlantHeight:

30 to 60 inches

FruitingTime:

Late July to late August

Distribution:

Maine to Florida ~ Throughout New Jersey

FloweringTime:

Mid April to Mid May

IdentifyingCharacteristics:

Leaves mitten-shaped, 4-6 inches long, 2 or 3 lobes, shinny above, turn yellow, orange or red in autumn ~ Flowers inconspicuous, clustered on stalk about 2 inches long ~ Fruit berries bluish-black, on long stalk ~ Bark reddish when young, becoming gray-brown, thick and deeply furrowed ~ Twigs slender brittle, vivid light green turning reddish brown