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Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Sassafras Leaves Sassafras Blossoms Sassafras Fall Leaves

Sassafras, a tree frequently seen along Arboretum trails, has distinctive leaves varying from a common 3-lobed shape, to a mitten shape, to an elliptical or oval unlobed leaf. Its small greenish-yellow flowers come out in early April before the leaves. In October, the orange, red, to almost pink leaves contribute to a brilliant display of fall colors. The dark blue fruits (drupes) can be seen in September before they are quickly consumed by birds. Sassafras is widely distributed in the Eastern and Midwestern US, ranging south from southern Maine and Michigan (and southern Ontario), and west to Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It can grow to heights of 60-70 ft. In the Arboretum forests, it is most commonly a member of the understory and lower canopy where it is often found growing in clonal clumps. It is an early invader of disturbed areas and can often be seen along forest edges.

Sassafras has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. The roots and bark have been used for making Sassafras tea and root beer flavoring, and ground-up leaves are used to make Filè powder, a food thickening agent used in Cajun cooking. Safrole, a carcinogenic component of sassafras oil, has been banned for use as a flavoring by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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