The sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) is a native species found in much of the eastern and central United States. Sassafras tree leaves are polymorphic, meaning that leaves of different shapes occur on the same tree, or even the same branch. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, the sassafras tree is used for shade, a street tree or a focal point in the landscape. Only one other genus of trees found in North America has leaves similar to those of the sassafras tree in terms of size and shape, but there are some noticeable differences as well.
About Sassafras Leaves
Sassafras leaves, while they can feature as many as seven lobes, most often have one, two or three lobes. The leaves are dark green, between 3 to 5 inches long and turn an assortment of colors in the fall. Sassafras leaves can change to colors such as orange, purple, yellow or red. They are aromatic when crushed, giving off a spicy smell if you bruise or crush them.
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The sassafras is a medium to small tree, achieving heights between 30 and 60 feet. It does tend to produce root suckers. Remove any root suckers as soon as they appear to maintain the sassafras as a single trunk rather than a multi-stemmed tree.
The Red Mulberry Tree
Red mulberry (Morus rubra) is one of the sassafras look alikes, featuring leaves that resemble those of the sassafras tree. They come in an array of shapes, with some featuring no lobes, others having two so they resemble a mitten and still others with more than two lobes. Red mulberry leaves turn yellow in autumn.
The 30- to 50-foot-tall tree's distribution overlaps that of the sassafras in much of the eastern United States, from Massachusetts to Florida and west to the Great Plains, in USDA zones 5 through 9. Its 1-inch fruits are shades of red to dark-purple and edible for humans, birds and wildlife. The sweet fruits can be eaten fresh or made into jams, jellies or wine. If not harvested, the fallen fruits can be messy and stain vehicles, sidewalks and driveways.
The White Mulberry Tree
White mulberry (Morus alba), an Asian species introduced to North America and found growing wild across eastern and Pacific regions, has the same types of leaves as red mulberry, but with some small differences. The foliage of red mulberry is rough on the upper surface, but smooth on a white mulberry leaf. The different lobes have points on red mulberry trees, but the lobes of white mulberry have a rounded appearance.
White mulberry grows 30 to 60 feet tall in USDA zones 4 through 8, with edible fruits that may be pink, white and purple when ripe. While edible when fully ripe, unripe fruits and the tree's white sap can cause gastric distress and hallucinations.
The Texas Mulberry Tree
A small mulberry, the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla) is sometimes no more than a large shrub. Growing to 20 feet at most in USDA zones 5 through 9, Texas mulberry is native to Southwestern states like Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Its leaves often have three lobes, but the foliage can have pointy lobes and sawtooth-like serration along their edges. Texas mulberry leaves turn light yellow in autumn. Its fruits are black, purple or red.