Sassafras is a small inconspicuous deciduous tree, with a native
range throughout the southeastern US. Its range extends into East Texas.
All the images below were from northern Brazos County, about a mile from
the Navasota River. The trees are growing in sandy soil on the banks
of a creek bed. The more healthy trees are closer to the creek bed
compared to trees on the shoulder of the creek bed. I suspect water
availability is the reason, since the area only averages about 38 inches
of rainfall per year.
In piney woods, sassafras trees are easily noticed. However, in mixed
hardwood forest, such as Brazos County, they may go unnoticed. I
have been hunting these woods for 24 years, and only noticed the the sassafras
trees a couple of years ago. Of course I'm in the woody primarily
during the fall and winter when all the trees are defoliated. One
is more likely to notice the juvenile under story trees if you happen to
see the characteristic trilobed leaves at eye level, which is how I first
noticed the sassafras on our hunting lease.
Juvenile under story sassafras
If you notice small juvenile trees, then start looking around. It
my be a root sprout of a mature tree. Within 15 feet of the above
root sprout, was the mature tree shown to the right.
All the leaves are in the upper canopy, and most
of the leaves are entire. Hence, one might not recognize it as a
sassafras. I only noticed this tree after looking very carefully
after seeing small juvenile trees in the area, probably from root sprouts.
Stems and Bark
The young stems are green, which become light brown when pencil sized.
On mature trees, the bark is dark brown and deeply ridged.
Green stems of new growth
Bark on a mature tree
Sassafras has light green to medium dark green leaves. The leaves
are very characteristically lobed. The leaves range from entire,
to bilobed (mitten shaped) to the characteristic trilobed leaves.
The lobed leaves are more common on young, juvenile trees. Once the
tree reaches the light of the upper canopy, the entire leaves are more
frequent. Because of this one may not notice mature sassafras trees
amongst mixed hardwoods.
Leaves on a young shoot
Range of leaf shapes:
entire, bilobed (mitten shaped), and trilobed