Thursday, August 21, 2008

Student Post, Sassafras

This summer, my students had a couple options for their final project. One option was to write a blog post for this site about a plant they admired and provide photos illustrating the plant's qualities. So I will be posting these now and then in the upcoming weeks.

First up is Jeannie Marcucci (, writing about Sassafras.


Sassafras albidum, Common Sassafras Tree

This is one of my favorite trees. Until we bought our house I had never seen one and since it was October when we had settlement, the tree was a gorgeous red—so I had to ID it. The give-away were the mitten-shaped leaves, yet not all the leaves are shaped like this. Some of the leaves are more oval or elliptical. Fall color aside, the leaves are bright green or medium green.

I don’t know how old my tree is, but it’s about 15 feet tall right now. It blocks my view of the neighbor’s garage when it’s in full leaf, but in the winter, the habit of the tree, the asymmetrical branching, the sympodial branching (branches do not have terminal end, they just keep re-branching) is even more interesting. Since the tree was planted too close to that garage, it does lean a bit. I hope once the canopy is above the roof line of that garage it will straighten up some as it seems to be a very supple tree. I should also limb it up some, but the low canopy provides nice shelter for the birds.

In the spring, the squirrels love the fattened buds. I have watched them hang upside down by their hind legs to reach after particularly luscious samples. During the warm weather, the tree is host to lots of small birds. I was lucky enough to get a photo of some fruit, which I’m sure is why the birds have really been enjoying the tree more than usual of late. I have only seen a few seedling trees sprout, which to me indicates the birds are getting nearly every piece of fruit available.

In the two years we’ve been here, I have not seen any Japanese beetle damage, scale, mildew; it has been trouble free. I had applied leaf compost to the area under the tree this season and that seems to have brought some extra vigor to the tree; it does look like it’s grown a lot this year.

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