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Sassafras is a charismatic tree with iconic leaves shaped like ovals, mittens, or three-toed dinosaur tracks. In fall, this rugged, fast-growing native shade tree will set your landscape ablaze when its quirky foliage takes on hues of gold, rose, orange, and scarlet-red. Sassafras is a wonderful tree for the wildlife-friendly garden, and its aromatic ovals, mittens, and dino tracks serve as hosts for beautiful black and blue spicebush swallowtail butterflies, as well as for the amazing giant prometheus moth. On female trees, the cheerful lemon yellow spring flowers will become dark blue fruits in late summer that may lure bluebirds into your yard, too!
- Hardiness Zone: 4-9
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Common throughout much of the eastern U.S., Sassafras is a beloved member of our country’s natural heritage. A friend to birds, butterflies, and people alike, it has brought shade and shelter to people and wildlife here for centuries. In 1957, a battle erupted over the world’s largest Sassafras Tree in Owensboro, Kentucky. The highway department had the big tree slated for destruction in order to widen a road, but the lady of the house on whose property the tree grew had other ideas. She emerged with a loaded shotgun, and after a long standoff, the state backed down. The venerable champ is now over 100 feet tall and has a trunk 7 feet thick.
Root beer was originally flavored with Sassafras roots, and Sassafras tea was a popular drink in pioneer days. As it turns out, Sassafras oil from the roots and bark of the tree contains saffrole, which has since been discovered to be mildly carcinogenic. However, the leaves contain very little of this substance, and today the powdered thickener knows as “filé” that goes into an authentic pot of Creole jumbo is still derived from crushed Sassafras leaves.
How to Grow
Sassafras is easy to grow and is a fast-growing tree in good soil. It prefers full sun and its fall color will be the best where light can reach all of the foliage. It needs well-drained soil and can tolerate dry conditions once established. In the wild, Sassafras is often found in hedgerows and will send up suckers, forming a thicket. This can happen in the home landscape, too, and will create a nice seasonal screen. If you’d rather keep your tree to a single trunk, simply pull or mow any suckers that appear and avoid wounding the trunk or disturbing the root zone, both of which can encourage more suckers to appear.
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Size A Trees:
5-6' tall. Although this size tree can be handled by one person its overall size and branching prevent it from fitting into a box. A van or SUV will be needed to bring this spectacular native tree home.
Size C Trees:
6-8' tall, grown and delivered balled and burlapped. This is a BIG size for this unique tree. It will be hard to find this size anywhere else! We suggest you have this size tree professionally moved and installed because of its size and weight.
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