Sassafras albidum

Sassafras is very common in Virginia, and it can be a shrub or a tree. As a tree, it can grow up to 60 feet.

Sassafras has three differently shaped leaves: three-lobed (see above), mitten-shaped, and simple (no lobes). Leaves are three to five inches long. In Fall, they turn red, yellow and orange.

Sassafras are most often seen as an understory shrub beneath larger trees, such as Virginia Pine, Eastern White Pine, Sweetgum, Yellow Poplar, or oaks. They often grow alongside Black Cherry, American Beech, American Hornbeam, Eastern Red Cedar, as well as others.

Sassafras is allelopathic to some plants, such as American Elm. This means it releases a chemical which keeps these plants from growing well. This allows Sassafras to grow better, without so much competition.

Sassafras flowers are greenish-yellow, and grow in clusters. They usually only last for a few days. The fruits, called drupes, are dark blue.

Sassafras are one of the first shrubs to begin growing in a field. This means it is a pioneer plant. Later, it will be pushed out by larger trees or reduced to an understory plant.

Sassafras can grow new trunks from an old stump.

The bark of Sassafras is gray-brown with furrows (big wrinkles).

Sassafras twigs are green.

Sassafras is an important plant to many animals. The leaves and twigs are eaten by White-tailed Deer. Leaves are also eaten by Woodchucks and Eastern Cottontails. Stems are munched on by American Beaver.

Fruits are eaten by many birds, including: Great Crested Flycatchers, Wild Turkey, Pileated Woodpeckers, Flickers, and Northern Mockingbirds. Small mammals also eat the fruit.

Caterpillars of butterflies, such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, eat leaves also.

Sassafras counts on animals to eat its fruit. Most animals do not digest the seeds. Later, when the animal poops, the seed has been move to a new place and can grow a new tree!

European Gypsy Moths, a pest to most trees, only eat Sassafras if other trees, such as oaks, are not available. They actually help Sassafras grow when they eat leaves of other trees. This allows more sunlight to reach the shorter Sassafras.

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants


White-tailed Deer

American Dog Tick

Black Cherry

European Gypsy Moth C


American Robin

Eastern White Pine

Eastern Gray Squirrel D

Eastern Cottontail

Dogday Harvestfly

Virginia Pine

Eastern Chipmunk D


Chinese Mantid


Eastern Cottontail D

Great Crested Flycatcher

Brown-headed Cowbird

American Beech

Great Crested Flycatcher D

Wild Turkey

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Yellow Poplar

Northern Mockingbird D

Northern Mockingbird

Mourning Dove

Mockernut Hickory

Pileated Woodpecker D

Pileated Woodpecker

American Goldfinch

Virginia Creeper

American Elm A

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Spring Peeper

Poison Ivy

Mossy Maple Polypore Pa

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Striped Skunk

Red Maple

Japanese Honeysuckle Pa

Eastern Chipmunk

White-tailed Deer

American Sycamore

Northern Bobwhite D

Northern Bobwhite

Black and Yellow Argiope

Flowering Dogwood

Sassafras Weevil Pa

Gray Catbird


American Holly

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


White Oak

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Bobwhite

Trumpet Creeper

Polyphemus Moth

Ebony Jewelwing

Wild Grape

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Wood Duck

Smooth Sumac

True Katydid

True Katydid


Soil Mite

Northern Mockingbird

Pink Lady's Slipper

Sassafras Weevil

Sassafras Weevil

Black Locust

Relationship to Humans:

Oil from Sassafras sap, taken from the bark and roots, is used to perfume soap, and to flavor tea and rootbeer. It is also used to flavor the cajun dish called gumbo. Sassafras is sometimes used as firewood, and can be made into fenceposts, rails, furniture, and cabinets.

American Indians used Sassafras to make dugout canoes.


Sassafras albidum


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