Sassafras : Physical Description

Sassafras trunk bark

The trunk bark of a mature tree. Its beautiful, deep furrows make it an appealing ornamental. (Derek Ramsey, 2006)

Sassafras has a unique appearance with unusual leaves and small fruits. The tree grows 35-50 feet at maturity with slender trunk and branches. Single root systems can have multiple sprouts and create a cluster of trunks, though this does not always happen. The branching is typically horizontal on younger trees and the structure looks almost shrubby, but as they grow older the branching becomes more irregular and the tree rounds out in shape. The bark is a reddish-brown with deep furrows that make it appealing as an ornamental.

Sassafras Leaves

A mitten-shaped leaf of the sassafras tree. Click the image to view other leaf shapes and the deep red of the tree's fall foliage. (Luke Ban, 2014)

The leaves on the sassafras tree appear in an alternating arrangement and have either three lobes, two lobes, or are a single unlobed elliptical shape. They can range from three to seven inches long and two to four inches wide. Their color changes from a dark green in summer to a yellow, orange, or even a deep red in the fall.

Female flower of Sassafras albidum.

A cluster of female flowers display their refreshing yellowy-green colors. (James Steakley, 2012)

Clusters of small yellowy-green flowers resembling asterisks appear in April all over the female trees and more sparsely on male trees. In late summer, dark blue half-inch fruits appear on red stems on the female trees, giving the trees strands of great color. The tree is dioecious, meaning different trees have male or female flowers. The male flowers are slightly larger and contain a number of stamens holding pollen, while the smaller female flowers have a single pistil in the center.

Sassafras fruit

The small, dark blue fruit of Sassafras albidum add great color to the tree. Many will be eaten by birds, which will then spread the seeds hidden within the fruit. (Cody Hough, 2007)