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Sassafras is a North American native tree that provides vivid fall color and interesting mitten-shaped leaves. In the wild it can form thickets, a trait that may not be appropriate for every landscape. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Laurel
  • Family (botanic) Lauraceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Mature height 20-30 feet
  • Mature width 25-40 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites
  • Season of interest mid spring, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Yellow
  • Shape or form Irregular, Pyramidal, Round, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Excessive sucker growth, May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Browsers, Game birds, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

C-Value: 3  Native to most of the eastern United States.

Bark color and texture: 

The reddish brown to gray-brown bark is ridged and furrowed.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The simple, alternate leaves can take on three shapes: mitten-shaped, oval or mitten-shaped with two ‘thumbs’.  The leaves have untoothed margins. In summer, the leaves are medium green. Fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red. Leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious).  Both types are yellow and borne in small clusters and are only slightly ornamental at best.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

Fruit are borne on female trees only.  They are dark blue berry-like (drupes) on bright red stalks.

Plant care:

This tree is best planted in the spring.  This is a thicket-forming plant and may require more maintenance due to suckering.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Japanese beetle, powdery mildew, leaf spots and cankers are possible problems.  Sassafras is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

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