What sassafras looks like

Size and shape

  • Reaches up to 20 metres tall.
  • Trunk grows up to 50 centimetres in diameter.


  • Green leaves that can have no lobes or 2 to 3 lobes (10 to 15 centimetres).
  • Occur in all shapes on the same tree.
  • Have blunted tips and smooth margins.
  • Turn yellow to red in fall.


  • Dark brown and grooved with corky ridges.


  • Small greenish-yellow flowers grow in loose clusters before leaves appear.


  • Dark blue berry-like fruits grow in clusters in red cups on a red stalk (10 to 15 centimetres).

Where sassafras is found

Sassafras is not common in Ontario. It is found in the Carolinian Zone, the southern-most portion of Ontario, as far north as Toronto. Where it occurs, sassafras often forms colonies.

What you need to know to grow sassafras

  • Moisture: grows best in well-drained soils.
  • Soil: grows best in loamy and sandy soils.
  • Shade: grows best in a mix of full sun and part shade and intolerant of deep shade.
  • Caution: sassafras trees have thin trunks that are susceptible to ice and wind damage.

Benefits and uses of sassafras

Wildlife benefits

Sassafras fruit is a food source to many species, including:

  • foxes
  • wild turkeys
  • squirrels

Commercial uses

Sassafras wood is a hardwood commonly used to produce:

  • lumber
  • fence posts
  • boats
  • furniture

Fun facts about sassafras

  • Sassafras trees rarely live longer than 30 years.
  • Sassafras roots were historically used to flavour root beer, but this flavouring is now known to cause cancer and is no longer used.
  • Crushed or bruised sassafras leaves have a spicy smell.