Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plant of the Week: White Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Everyone has probably heard about drinking sassafras tea or root beer, elixirs that were historically made from the roots and shoots of the sassafras tree.  However, the primary ingredient in sassafras oil is safrole which has been banned by USDA as a food additive since 1976 when it was discovered to be carcinogenic.  Today the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency monitors safrole and sassafras oil because it is used to make three different psychedelic drugs including "ecstasy".  Hence today root beer gets its unique odor and fragrance from esters found in wintergreen and black birch (methyl salicylate) and the other aroma for food additives are made artifically. Other uses of sassafras include using the dried leaves to make file' for use in Creole and Cajun cooking (most notably gumbo), for aromatherapy, and for fragrance in perfume and soap.  As a landscape tree it is best used where sprouting by new individuals is not a problem because this species has a tendency to root sucker forming a clump of small trees as a result of its shallow root system.  The main stem does have a deep taproot making this a drought tolerant species. This species is adapted to a wide variety of habitats but it must have very well drained soils, usually sandy loam but not heavy clay.  It has outstanding fall color ranging from orange to deep red and the pyramidal shaped tree can be quite stunning when it reaches its maximum height of 60' tall. It has small inconspicuous flowers that appear in March and April followed by small bluish black fruits in September.  The leaf shape of this species is variable and ranges from ovate to mitten-shaped to three-lobed. Young leaves have a soft downy appearance.  The plant does well in full sun but can take some partial shade.  In terms of wildlife use, the berries are eaten by birds and it serves as a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail.

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