Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

Lauraceae Laurel Family including Spicebush, Cinnamon, Camphor

Different leaf forms on the same tree and a spicy-fruity taste are characteristic of a Sassafras tree. One of its former specific epithets (second part of a Latin name) was variiafollium, a great descriptive word. I don’t know what albidum (white) has to do with anything.

Chewed fall leaf with 3 main veins and 3 lobes.

Shoots (twigs, buds, leaves). Two more distinctive characteristics make Sassafras easy to identify in the winter. The twigs are green and the lateral shoots extend out beyond the terminal shoot.

Lateral shoots are longer than the center shoot.

Below left: the winter terminal bud sometimes has silky hairs. Middle: bud scales on the terminal bud starting to open in spring with smaller lateral buds over a raised leaf scar. Right: Bud scales open further and show some bracts that will be below the flower cluster (inflorescence). The bud scales will fall and leave scars showing one year’s growth. Sometimes I snip a twig and watch it grow.

Below left: A leaf scar has confluent vascular bundles (xylem: water pipes and phloem: sugar pipes) so close together they look like a line. Bud scales dropped off and left behind bud scale scars. Young bark eventually cracks with rust colored fissures (right).

Flowers: The dioecious flowers bloom before the leaves mature. Its fun to see which trees are male and which are female because they are on different plants. Below left: Bud scales open to reveal some accrescent involucre bracts (a whorl of bracts that continue to grow larger) and a cluster of young flowers 4-15-19. Below right they continue to grow and new leaves start.

Male flowers (below) are clustered in a loose raceme (the lower flowers open first). Six tepals (sepals and petals look the same) are below the 9 stamens in two whorls. Three inner stamens have nectiferous glands (bumps with nectar inside). The leaves are just starting to open.  4-30-12


Female flowers on a different tree (below). I did find these female flowers but forgot to go back and look for the fruit. I enlarged a single flower on the right. Six tepals (it looks like 7 because one is the stalk and one is really long) are beneath the superior ovary of the pistil that hasn’t started to grow into a fruit. It is surrounded by six yellow stamenodes (sterile stamens). The style (wavy neck) and stigma (tip that will receive the pollen) are easy to see.

Leaves finally open. The bracts and bud scales are still there.

Below right: leaves form a mosaic, spread out so each individual leaf receives the maximum amount of sun. There are 3 different forms: one lobed, two lobed (mitten) and three lobed. Even the tiny mitten shape (lower right) has 3 main veins.

Fall leaves turn a shade of salmon that appeared on some of the younger leaves (left above). I wonder what likes to chew on them. It is a distinctive chew that eats the softer parts between the veins.

Fruit: The ovary becomes a single fleshy green fruit, a drupe with one seed, that will turn blue when ripe on top of a bright red stalked cup.

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