Sassafras albidum (Nuttall) Nees

Sassafras is a small to medium-sized, shade-intolerant tree, best known, perhaps, for its bark and root which have long been used for making sassafras tea. It is rare or absent in the higher Adirondacks and Catskills but is locally common on the sandy soil between these mountain ranges, and is abundant on the hills along the lower Hudson River Valley and on Long Island. Its wood is soft, weak, brittle, coarse-grained, aromatic, and very durable in contact with the soil. It is used locally for fence posts.

Bark - reddish brown in color, deeply furrowed even in young trees, with flat-topped ridges crossed by horizontal cracks; inner layers bright cinnamon red in color.

Twigs - slender, brittle, spicy to smell, at first light yellowish green in color, later becoming reddish brown.

Winter buds - terminal bud present, 1/3 to 3/5 inch long, pointed, greenish in color; lateral buds much smaller.

Leaves - alternate, simple, 4 to 6 inches long, entire margined. The leaves present a great variation in shape on the same tree, some are ovate, others mitten-shaped (both left and right handed), still others are 3-lobed, more rarely 5-lobed.

Fruit - berry-like, small, dark blue in color, containing a stony seed 1/4 inch long, on a stout red stem, usually in clusters; ripens early in autumn.

Distinguishing features - leaves with 3 different shapes; inner bark cinnamon red; spicy smell of twigs.

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