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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Sassafras


(Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Ness.)

  Sassafras is common throughout the state, except in the higher mountains. Sassafras leaves are 4 to 6 inches long with three distinct leaf forms. They may be entire (not lobed), or two-to three-lobed on the same tree or branch. In autumn, leaves turn yellow, orange or crimson.

The fruit ripens in September and October. It is a dark blue drupe with a thin, fleshy covering on the hard seed. Each fruit grows on a stalk 11/2 to 2 inches long.

Roots, twigs and bark of sassafras have a pleasant, spicy scent, and contain oil of sassafras, which is used as a flavoring. In the early spring, the tender roots can be peeled and brewed to make sassafras tea.

The bark of the trunk is thick, red-brown and deeply furrowed. The bark of the twigs is bright green.

Sassafras is a small tree that often grows 20 to 40 feet tall and I to 2 feet in diameter. It sprouts readily from stump and roots and can survive fire. The wood is soft, weak and brittle. It has a limited use for fence posts. Deer, turkey, bear and many species of birds eat the fruit in early fall.
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