The Big Trees and Shrubs of Michigan 44. Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees Common SassafrasSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Page 75 ï~~2005 THE MICHIGAN BOTANIST 75 THE BIG TREES AND SHRUBS OF MICHIGAN 44. Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees Common Sassafras Dennis W. Woodland Diane K. Chaddock Biology Department Executive Vice President Andrews University Southwestern Michigan College Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104 Dowagiac, Michigan 49047 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org The largest known Common Sassafras tree in Michigan is located west of Dowagiac, near Indian Lake, in Silver Creek Township, Cass County, in the southwestern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Description of the species: The Common Sassafras is a member of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae). The genus Sassafras is composed of three species and is one of only a few temperate genera in this largely tropical family. Sassafras albidum is a species of eastern North America and native to southern Michigan. Mature trees are moderate in size (6-15 m tall), with a trunk which is usually 20-60 cm in diameter (Barnes & Wagner 1981). The tree is of a roundish form. Contorted branches may spread to over 80 feet. It may be single trunked or with several trunks from the base. The trunks often sprout from roots and form extensive thickets in sandy soil. The handsome bark, dark reddish-brown and furrowed, forms flat, corky ridges. The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate to elliptic, 3-7" long and 2-5" wide, with an acute or obtuse apex and a tapered, cuneate base. The leaves are bright green above and a lighter green beneath. The margins are entire, or one-lobed (mitten-shaped), or three-lobed. The medium green leaf color of summer turns to shades of yellow to deep orange to scarlet in autumn, making it one of Michigan's most spectacular natives trees for fall coloration. The twigs are smooth, glabrous and glaucous, and bright yellow-green, sometimes reddish when exposed to direct sun. A spicy aroma is apparent when the twig is broken. Growth is from an axillary bud (sympodial), giving the branching its distinctive shape. The wood is weak, soft, and durable in soil. The trees are dioecious; the unisexual flowers are in terminal racemes 1-2 inches long, yellow, apetalous, developing in April before the leaves, and mildly fragrant. The fruit is a dark blue drupe, ripening in September and quickly falling, or eaten by birds. The bark and roots have been used in folk culture to make sassafras tea and the "oil of sassafras" has been extracted from the roots. The oil contains the compound saffrol, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals studies; therefore, it can no longer be added to commercial products like root beer. Many medicinal properties have been attributed to sassafras. Location of Michigan's Big Tree: our champion Common Sassafras is located six miles (10 kin) west of Dowagiac, MI. It can be reached by taking M-62 west to Brush Lake (County Line) Road, thence north 0.6 mile (1 kin) along Brush
Page 76 ï~~76 THE MICHIGAN BOTANIST Vol. 44 Documented distribution and characteristics of Common Sassafras in Michigan. Cass County is shaded in. Illustrations are from Barnes and Wagner (1981). 1. Winter twig with flower bud, xl; 2. portion of twig showing axillary bud and leaf scar, x2; 3. autumn fruits (drupes), x%; 4. venation and variation in leaf shape, x%; 5. staminate (male) flowering shoot, x%; 6. staminate (male) flower, with aborted ovary, x2; 7. pistillate (female) flowering shoot, x%; 8. pistillate (female) flower, with aborted stamens, x2; 9. documented distribution of Common Sassafras in Michigan, from Voss (1985). Lake Road to Forest Beach Road, and thence east 0.3 mile (0.5 km) on Forest Beach Road (75 yards west of Indian Trail Road that runs along the west side of Indian Lake). The tree is along the edge of Fairway #7 of the Indian Lake Hills golf course in Silver Creek Township, Cass County, T5S, R16W, section 31. The tree is in a row of other large sassafras and black cherry trees. Description of Michigan's Big Tree: the tree has a single trunk with large branches arising ca. 10' (3 m) above the ground. There is dead wood down the northeast side, due to an old lightning strike. The circumference of the tree at
Page 77 ï~~2005 THE MICHIGAN BOTANIST 77 breast height was measured on 2 June 2002 at 175" (430 cm); the diameter is 55" or 140 cm. The crown spread was 58' (17.4 m). The height was measured at 60' (18 m). This is a newly-found champion, and replaces the previous one, formerly found at 1318 Coddington Lane, Jackson, Jackson County, which has died. Another tree listed by Barnes and Wagner (1981) as a champion, this one from Berrien County, is smaller. Recent severe storms have broken several of the new champion's large upper branches. The tree can be observed by staying on the paved road and not going onto the private property of the golf course. The tree is 100+ years old. An old photograph in the golf clubhouse, taken around 1920, plainly shows the tree along the fairway. It was a large tree at that time. INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE If you would like to join in extending this series of articles by visiting and describing one or more of Michigan's Big Trees, please contact Elwood B. Ehrle (woodyehrle5098 @sbcglobal.net) for help with the locations, specifications for taking measurements, and assistance with the manuscript. The Michigan Botanical Club encourages your involvement in this activity. Please remember to ask permission before entering private property. LITERATURE CITED Barnes, B. V. & W. H. Wagner, Jr. 1981. Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. viii + 383 pages. Voss, E. G. 1985. Michigan Flora. Part II. Bulletin of the Cranbrook Institute of Science No. 59 and University of Michigan Herbarium, Ann Arbor. xix + 724 pages.