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.
09, 2004 19:32 PST
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.
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
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
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
diameter and 40' tall.
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
are the highest elevations that you encounter sassafras in West
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
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
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
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
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."
10, 2004 16:46 PST
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'.
10, 2004 17:32 PST
A little more info concerning sassafras, for what it's worth. I
them in New Jersey bordering a cemetary, in what would be
neutral to base
soil (300' elevation) that reached 24-28" diameters and
tall. There were others in that state that did well.
I have also found them in very moist, highly acidic soil (2300'
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
well in a variety of soil, drainage, and elevation conditions.
10, 2004 17:41 PST
By far, the best specimens I have seen grow in the mid-west,
having the most incredible specimens I have ever seen so far.
diameter and huge crowns like oaks.