TREES & plants


Sassafras in fall color.

Sassafras is a North American native tree that provides vivid fall color and interesting mitten-shaped leaves. In the wild it can form thickets, a trait that may not be appropriate for every landscape.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Sassafras albidum
All Common Names: 
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet), 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
Mature Height: 
20-30 feet
Mature Width: 
25-40 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Excessive sucker growth, 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Showy fruit
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid spring, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Yellow
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round, 
  • Thicket-forming
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate, 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Browsers, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

This tree is best planted in the spring.  This is a thicket-forming plant and may require more maintenance due to suckering.

Disease, pests, and problems

Japanese beetle, powdery mildew, leaf spots and cankers are possible problems

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 3

Native to most of the eastern United States.

Bark color and texture 

The reddish brown to gray-brown bark is ridged and furrowed.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

The simple, alternate leaves can take on three shapes: mitten-shaped, oval or mitten-shaped with two 'thumbs'.  The leaves have untoothed margins.
In summer, the leaves are medium green.  Fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red.  Leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male and female flowers on separate trees (dioecious).  Both types are yellow and borne in small clusters.  Slightly ornamental at best.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are borne on female trees only.  They are dark blue berry-like (drupes) on bright red stalks.

Sassafras albidum or Sassafras