sassafras habitat   Linda Luthringer
  Feb 09, 2004 18:51 PST 

Where do you most often find stands of sassafras? I usually find them in disturbed sites, or those logged within the last 50 or so years. What kind of soil indicator do they suggest? I find ash and tuliptree usually nearby, so I'm thinking along the neutral to basic soil type.

Re: sassafras habitat   Will Fell
  Feb 09, 2004 19:32 PST 
Dale, Colby and others...

I find your observations quite interesting. In GA sassafras is seldom more than a bush, rarely two inches or more in DBH, usually found in fencerows, but not at all uncommon. We do have one sizable specimen on our big tree list in a church yard, but is is very diminutive in height and has a habit more like an old apple tree. However I was up in central Tennessee several years ago and found quite large sassafras trees growing quite commonly and sharing canopy dominance with the oaks. The reason I mention this is that this was in the "Central Basin" region south of Nashville which is noted for it's extensive limestone barrens of red cedar and not much else tree wise. However in the richer bottoms there were respectable hardwoods containing large sugar maples, bur oaks and sassafras among others. I would assume these areas would also sport basic soils.
Re: sassafras habitat
  Feb 10, 2004 04:28 PST 

Sassafras is an extremely common pioneer species in abandoned farmland in WV
and can be found on nearly all sites and growing conditions. The shortest,
poorest form and lowest vigor trees are normally found mixed with Virginia pine
and red maple on moderately sloping soils with a heavy clay content and the
soils in those cases tend to be acid.

On Mesic soils that were cleared for farming where there is a combination of
poplar, basswood, slippery elm and cucumber, sassafras can grow very tall and
rival several other tree species for dominance. On the most neutral of soils,
sassafras seems to grow to the tallest and largest diameter of the trees I've
encountered (up to 30" DBH--94" CBH).

In New England, I rarely encountered sassafras much larger that 8" in
diameter and 40' tall.

Russ Richardson
RE: sassafras habitat   Robert Leverett
  Feb 10, 2004 05:07 PST 


   Your experience with sassafras in New England and mine coincide. It
is a small tree in New England even in the best growing conditions. What
are the highest elevations that you encounter sassafras in West

Re: sassafras habitat   Colby Rucker
  Feb 10, 2004 10:59 PST 

In this area, sassafras does well on deep soils - sandy loams, silt loams and loamy sands. It is one of the old field species, like black cherry, black locust, persimmon, redcedar and Virginia pine. Sassafras is absent from wetter sites suitable for the persimmon and redcedar, and is unimpressive on impoverished soils frequented by the black locust and Virginia pine.

Sassafras does very well with pawpaw on deep rich silt loams with a warm exposure, but it is soon overtopped by tuliptree, only persisting along roadsides and fence rows, where it may be mixed with red mulberry, redbud, and hackberry, none of which are common.

On the loamy sands, sassafras appears to persist as the Virginia pine wears out, but cannot compete with southern red oak. Fire is common on such sites, and is probably beneficial for the root-sprouting sassafras.

Overall, it appears the soil must be deep and well-drained. The edge of a fertile pasture above a roadside bank offers conditions for some of the largest specimens. The tallest examples are unusually slender, and usually on the thinner soils, where they have barely outlasted black locust and Virginia pine.

A straight trunk is necessary to reach any height, but I'm unsure that's a given with competition. I once saw two sassafras thickets in a large field, each a colony of root-sprouts from a single specimen. The site was level, and the two groups about 50 yards apart, and not over 30 feet tall. One group was entirely straight trunked specimens, the other had wavy trunks. I don't know which was male or female, or if that ever has a bearing on form. Unfortunately, the entire site has been destroyed.

That sassafras is held to be an indicator of poor soils begs some explanation. I must assume that would be true for sites so challenging that the larger species are absent, and sassafras, by default, is left to eke out an existence, attaining some size due to its exceptional longevity. On the better sites, sassafras owes its presence to the influence of agriculture, and it appears the natural occurrence was once more spotty, as would be the case for black locust and the other "field trees."

Re: sassafras habitat   Linda Luthringer
  Feb 10, 2004 16:46 PST 
Colby, Will F., Russ, Bob,

Thanks for the info. The sassafras I've found along Lake Erie cliff abutments have all been in clumps of anywhere from 2-8 stems. With all the sand blowing in off the lake, I can see how it can do well along the Lake Erie escarpments. I've yet to find it any farther than about 2 miles south from the lake. Sassafras in these more southern sites are found near streams or old floodplains. I do tend to find them near the edges of old fallow farmfields with black locust, also in clumps but somtimes singles, but of much less quality than those growing in the floodplains with more sandy soils.

All this talk about sandy loams, silt loams, and loamy sands, brings back memories of describing 'muck', 'peat', 'mucky peat' or 'peaty muck'.

Re: sassafras habitat   edward coyle
  Feb 10, 2004 17:32 PST 

A little more info concerning sassafras, for what it's worth. I have found
them in New Jersey bordering a cemetary, in what would be neutral to base
soil (300' elevation) that reached 24-28" diameters and approximately 80'
tall. There were others in that state that did well.
I have also found them in very moist, highly acidic soil (2300' elevation)
that attained 10'-01'' circumference and 118.3' tall. President Will told me
of monsters growing on the west side of the Smokies that lived in what might
be called tannin tea.
I am left to think that when given a chance, sassafras can and does, grow
well in a variety of soil, drainage, and elevation conditions.
RE: sassafras habitat   Will Blozan
  Feb 10, 2004 17:41 PST 

By far, the best specimens I have seen grow in the mid-west, with Illinois
having the most incredible specimens I have ever seen so far. 2-4 feet
diameter and huge crowns like oaks.