By Kathee Morgeson
Time for sassafras trees to bloom, just after the serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) start to fade. If you see one, you probably see many since they grow in wonderful thickets. Mine are being given the challenge of breezy days and threats of another night of frost. But, they have proven to stay closed just long enough to give that burst of sunshiny yellow to welcome spring in mid-April.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) can grow to 45-feet tall in dry, moist conditions. Squirrels and birds eat the fruit. The leaves are very interesting. They can be unlobed, mitten-shaped, or trilobed. Very cool!
Insects pollinate male and female flowers from separate trees. Sassafras is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and the promethea, IO, and imperial moths. I know I will be watching out for them this summer.
Males of the spicebush swallowtail are dark with distinctive greenish hindwings on upper surfaces.
In fall sassafras leaves turn red and yellow. Dave Tylka tells us that the leaves turning signal migrating cedar waxwings and thrushes that their energy-rich berries are ripe for picking proving once again that native flowers have evolved adaptations to convince animals to pollinate plants and disperse their seeds in his book, Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People.
Interesting notes taken from Wikipedia:
- All parts of the tree are fragrant.
- The largest known sassafras tree in the world is located in Owensboro, Kentucky, and measures over 100 feet high and 21 feet in circumference.
- Contains information on the historical cooking and medicinal uses of sassafras.
- Sassafras wood and oil were both used in dentistry.
[Editor’s Note: Marcia and Dawn’s website references:
- Flora of North America
- Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database
- United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database
Also, Dawn recommends the book, Trees of Missouri, which also lists wildlife and medicinal uses.]