Sassafras trees set the woods on fire in autumn! By Mary Reid Barrow

The sassafras trees have set my yard on fire!

This time of year, sassafras leaves turn bright red and stand out brilliantly from the rest of the woodland foliage.

And for one brief glowing moment, dare I say it, the sassafras puts coastal Virginia right up there with the Blue Ridge for its fall color.

Sassafras are small trees but great trees for small yards and small children.  If you tell your kids about sassafras’s unique features, you will introduce them to trees in a way that they should remember forever.

Show them the three different leaves.  One is shaped like a glove,  another like a  mitten and the third, a thumb-less mitt.

Let them take a whiff of sassafras root or branch with the bark scraped off.  The unique flavoring in root beer and sassafras tea will come through strong and clear.  Though only you will care, it’s also fun know that sassafras leaves are ground into filé powder, the herb that is distinctive to Creole cooking.

Native Americans and colonists  regularly used locally harvested sassafras root in teas and herbal remedies.  In the 1960s, a cancer causing agent was found in the root, according to “Common Native Trees of Virginia, Tree Identification Guide” published by the Virginia Department of Forestry. Today sassafras flavoring has been treated to remove the health danger.

Sassafras trees are loved in nature too.  Many insect species nectar on  small yellow flowers that bloom in spring and birds dine on the tiny blue berries that female trees bear in summer .

But in autumn, when sassafras leaves shine, the feast is for the eyes.

Do you have a favorite tree,  a secret tree grove, or neighborhood climbing tree that you love.  Let us know your stories about trees and the critters that call trees home. 

 

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