Sassafras albidum

Location in Ontario
Sassafras is a Carolinian Tree found in pockets throughout the Carolinian Zone. It grows on rich sandy soil, but can also grow on limestone. It can be found either as a large tree in a forest, or along the edges of disturbed areas such as fields and roadways.

Large Sassafras tree in autumn colours, Nofolk County.  Sadly, this tree fell down during a storm several years after this photo.

Genus Sassafras
This is a small genus of only 3 members. Size ranges from small to large. The trees are aromatic. Leaves are alternate and simple; with or without one to three lobes. Leaves and twigs have a citrus scent when crushed. Flowers are tiny and yellow-green. Trees can be monoecious or dioeciouis depending on the species. The fruit is a small drupe. Sassafras Albidum is the only species that grows in Ontario.
In the Landscape
Sassafras is a medium sized tree that grows up to 20 metres, and can reach 100 years of age. Sassafras makes a beautiful medium sized lawn specimen with its outstanding fall colours, unusual fruit, interesting bark patterns and 3 variations of leaves! It doesn't transplant well, so extra care is needed when planting. 

The flavouring called Sassafras is made from the roots of the Sassafras tree. Root Beer was originally made from Sassafras, but today it is artificially flavoured.


Three different leaf shapes and a leaf bud

The leaves can have various shapes, with one, two or three lobes. The edges are smooth. Sassafras has outstanding fall colours; the leaves are pink to yellow to orange to red.
The bark of Sassafras is dark brown and deeply grooved. A yellow dye can be made by boiling the bark. It is one of the few species of tree that has a truly deep brown bark colour.
Sassafras trees are dioecious, with male (pollen) flowers and female (seed) flowers occuring on different trees. Flowers are greenish-yellow and in loose clusters. They appear in May with the leaves. Flowers are pollinated by small bees and a variety of flies.
The large stone-like seeds are contained in small, blue-coloured berries (drupes) on a club-shaped, red stalk. Fruit appears in late August and  is produced every 1 or 2 years after 10 years of growth.

A full compliment of colours

The wood is soft and very aromatic.
Specific gravity: 0.46
Janka Hardness: 630 lb
Wood Comparison Chart

The wood is used for fence posts and flooring. Native people and early explorers used Sassafras wood to make dugout canoes because the wood is very durable.

Amazing autumn colours

A grove of Sassafras, Ojibway Prairie, Essex County

Link to United States Forest Service Silvics Manual for Sassafras.