Sassafras albidum

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 sassafras
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.
Mature sassafras tree
Mature sassafras
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 on young shoots
Green stems of new growth
Bark of mature sassafras
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.
Shoot with all leaf shapes
Leaves on a young shoot
Entire, bilobed and trilobed leaves
Range of leaf shapes: 
entire, bilobed (mitten shaped), and trilobed leaf.
©David Wm. Reed