fbpx Sassafras | The Morton Arboretum


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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline 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

Seasons 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.

Location of Sassafras albidum (Sassafras) at the Arboretum