Sassafras

 

(Sassafras albidum: Lauraceae)

Description: A small- to medium-sized tree, to 15m tall and 60 cm diameter.  Leaves alternate, simple, 8-15 cm long and 5-10 cm wide.  Leaf shape is variable but typically two- or three-lobed in young individuals but unlobed with entire margins in older ones.  Bark...  Flowers small, yellow, and produced in drooping racemes ca. 5 cm long.  Insect pollinated.  Sassafras is dioecious - male and female flowers are produced on different plants.  Fruits ... (Barnes and Wagner 1981).

 
Typical leaves and bark of Sassafras albidum.  Note the variable size and shape of the leaves.

 

 

Inflorescence of S. albidum Fruits of S. albidum.  Note the strongly contrasting fruit (actually dark purple) and red pedicel.

 

 

Geographic Range:  Range coincides with that of Eastern Deciduous Forest: central lower Michigan and southern Ontario east to southwest Maine, south to central Florida, and west to eastern Texas (Little 1980).

 

 

Habitat Requirements:  Characteristic of disturbed sites in dry-mesic and mesic forests.  Shade tolerant as a young seedling but becoming shade intolerant, so that sapling-sized and larger individuals occur in high light locations.  In forests, Sassafras is thus associated with treefall gaps and larger clearings (Barnes and Wagner 1981).

 

Distribution on the Preserve:  Common only along the edge of the forest at the 66th St. boundary, and at other locations (old treefall gaps) scattered throughout the preserve.

 

Status on the Preserve:  Based upon recent surveys, S. albidum currently comprises approximately 1.2% of the canopy trees on the field station property.  Considering only trees greater than 10 cm dbh (diameter at breast height), the density of S. albidum is approximately 5.0 per hectare.  The species is also clearly regenerating on the site; recent treefall gaps typically have numerous seedlings and/or saplings of S. albidum.  Projections based on current canopy trees and their most likely replacers suggest that S. albidum will remain at approximately the same proportion of total canopy trees or perhaps increase slightly in the future.

Literature Cited:
Barnes, B.V., and W.H. Wagner, Jr.  1981.  Michigan trees: a guide to the trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region.  University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.  383 p.

Little, E.L.  1980.  The Audubon Society field guide to North American trees: Eastern edition.  Alfred A. Knopf, New York.  716 p.

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