The sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) is a species found in much of the eastern United States. Its leaves are polymorphic, meaning that leaves of different shapes occur on the same tree, or even the same branch, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 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.
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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. Sassafras is a medium to small tree, achieving heights between 30 and 60 feet.
Red mulberry (Morus rubra) is a native mulberry tree with leaves resembling 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. The tree’s distribution overlaps that of the sassafras in much of the eastern United States. It grows to 50 feet from Massachusetts to Florida and west to the Great Plains. Its fruits are dark-purple shades and edible. Red mulberry leaves turn yellow in autumn.
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 to 50 feet, with edible fruits of an array of colors when ripe, including pink, white and purple.
A small mulberry, the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla) is sometimes no more than a large shrub. Growing to 20 feet at most, 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.