Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

native


Other Names:
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 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 are also visited by wasps, beetles, and sawflies. The leaves are eaten by weevils, leafhoppers, beetles, and the caterpillars of many moths and butterflies. 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, Coca-Cola, and Whole Foods.

Identification Tools

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Ranges

North America Virginia

Sassafras sapling
Sassafras saplings growing on the Ridge Path next to the Kust property. Leaves can have 1-3 lobes, but most often have 3. They have a sweet-spicy scent when crushed or torn.

Sassafras sapling
Another Sassafras sapling growing on the Ridge Path

Sassafras sapling
A larger Sassafras growing on the Ridge Path, with fresh spring leaves

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