Sassafras

Sassafras albidum
Family: 
Lauraceae (laurels)
Description: 

A short to medium-sized tree, often forming colonies from root sprouts, with a columnar canopy, a flattened crown and contorted branches that turn upward at their ends.

Leaves alternate, simple, aromatic when crushed, 4–6 inches long, 2–4 inches wide, broadest at the middle; having 3 shapes (entire, with a 2-sided lobe, or 3-lobed), tip pointed or rounded, base tapered.

Bark aromatic, reddish-brown to gray with deep grooves and firm, long, flat-topped ridges.

Twigs moderately stout, curved upward at the tips, yellowish-green becoming greenish-brown with age; broken twigs have a spicy odor.

Flowers April–May. Male and female flowers occur on separate trees in stalked, branched clusters about 2 inches long, at the tips of twigs; flowers small, yellow, petals absent; sepals 6, spreading.

Fruits in late August–October. Berrylike, widest at the middle, about ½ inch long, dark blue, shiny, attached to a swollen stalk; stalk about 1½ inches long, red.

Size: 
Height: to 60 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs on the border of dry woods, glades, prairies and in bottomland soils in valleys; also along roadsides, railroads, idle fields, pastures, fencerows and thickets. Long in cultivation, sassafras requires full sun for best growth. One of our most striking and aromatic trees.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Nearly statewide; absent from the northern quarter.
Human connections: 
Root tea has long been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments. However, an oil in sassafras causes cancer in laboratory animals, and the FDA has banned sales of sassafras tea, roots and oil. A pleasant tree in cultivation, its leaves are colorful in autumn. The wood has many uses, too.
Ecosystem connections: 
The fruit is eaten by many species of birds, and the leaves are browsed by woodchucks, deer, rabbits and bears. The leaves are also a primary food for a host of spectacular moths and butterflies, including the spicebush swallowtail.
Shortened URL
http://mdc.mo.gov/node/8166