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White Sassafras, Red Sassafras, Silky Sassafras
Sassafras is a common native tree that grows throughout Virginia. You can see Sassafras trees on the ridge at Monticello Park. The leaves have one-to-three lobes, but most often three; they have a sweet-spicy scent when crushed or torn, and they are eaten by weevils, leafhoppers, beetles, and the caterpillars of many moths and butterflies. The fruit is sought by many species of birds, as well as some small mammals. The flowers are pollinated primarily by flies and small bees, and they also are visited by wasps, beetles, and sawflies. The wood is highly flammable because it contains a lot of oils. Sassafras root, which is used in traditional recipes for root beer, contains safrole, which is carcinogenic and has been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hence, most commercial root beer recipes do not contain sassafras. However, a safrole-free sassafras extract is used in a number of commercial root beers, including some made by Dr Pepper, Snapple, and Coca-Cola.
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