Sassafras Images, Photos and Facts

Sassafras leaves scanner

Sassafras is one my favorite trees. It smells good, makes good lumber and stands out in a crowd. It only falls short on my overall checklist because it doesn’t produce a fruit that we would normally eat, but it is used for flavoring root beer, which kicks it back up near the top.

This time of year (early fall) is when the sassafras really starts to shine. It is one of the first trees to start turning and has few rivals in the color department. Most of the trees around St. Louis are still green, but the sassafras is bright red. The leaves are often a mix of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, similar to the fall colors of sugar maples.

Sassafras is the ideal tree for a school leaf project because it has three leaf shapes. Everyone will be astonished and amazed when you show them first the football-shaped leaf, then pull out the mitten-shaped leaf, and finally, unveil the three-lobed leaf – all from the same tree (you might want to end with the mitten, it’s the cutest).

After you dazzle the audience with the leaf shapes, be sure to grind up the leaves in your hand and let everyone get a good smell. No other tree is as fragrant as sassafras. The lemony-fresh scent will have them lining up to buy Murphy’s oil soap and clean your kitchen. And, if you aren’t sure if it’s a sassafras, just smell it, even a blind person can tell if it’s sassafras.

If you go hunting for sassafras leaves look along property edges, where this normally wiry tree hangs out in clusters and new trees sprout up from the roots of others. They are usually small and crooked, reaching wherever possible to get to the light, but occasionally they are big and straight.

When it comes time to harvest a sassafras and turn it into lumber, get ready. If you thought the leaves smelled, just wait until you have a nose full of sassafras sawdust. That scent will linger in your head for days, but it will remind you that you have some of the best-working wood in your hands. This soft hardwood dries flat, is lightweight and works like butter. The wood itself isn’t too showy and looks like a green-tinted ash when fresh cut. But, after a little time, the green turns to a rich, medium brown and looks like no other.

If you have a photograph of a piece that you have built out of sassafras, please let me know, so I can share it with others (I promise not to take all of the credit).

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

3 responses to “Sassafras Images, Photos and Facts”

  1. wes says :

    sassafras is in the avocado family. and there are FOUR leaf shapes, if you include both left and right mittens.

  2. Matthew Laposa says :

    You know i am bigtime familiar was this. Still have some we cut a couple of years ago. Also have a few growing around me. Put it on the mill and it will be
    a great day. WHAT A SMELL!

  3. thekiltedwoodworker says :

    Scott, get me some smallish sassafras boards and I’ll make some boxes you can use (er… You can use pictures of the boxes) to show what it looks like.

    I’ll even pay you for the wood! :)

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