Wild Guide: Sassafras

By MDC | September 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: September 2023

Sassafras is a short- to medium-sized tree, often forming colonies from root sprouts along the border of dry woods, glades, prairies, pastures, fence rows, and thickets. Its aromatic bark is reddish-brown to gray. Sassafras produces small, yellow flowers from April through May, and bears dark blue, berrylike fruit from August through October. Laurel wilt disease, which is spreading in North America, kills sassafras trees and their relatives in the laurel family. The fungal disease, and the beetles that transmit it, is carried on imported wood packing materials, but hasn’t arrived in the Show-Me State.

Did You Know?

European explorers in the 1500s and 1600s thought sassafras was a cure-all. Soon, Europeans were paying high prices for its import, but this was back when virtually any aromatic plant was considered curative for almost any ailment. Since then, science has cast doubt on its efficacy.

Photo of sassafras branches with brightly colored autumn leaves.

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner