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Sassy Sassafras
November 17, 2020 by Haya Aldoori

When Autumn comes around, we look forward to the time when one of our favourite small trees drops its leaves. With careful eyes, we search on the ground for the fallen leaves of Sassafras, which come in one of three shapes; a ghost, a mitten, or a football!

Once found, we give the stem a little scratch and bring the leaf up to our noses to enjoy the surprisingly sweet smell. Some say it smells like lemons, some say it smells like Fruit Loops cereal - to each their own! Since all parts of this tree are fragrant, Sassafras has been widely used as an ingredient in soaps and perfumes.

Sassafras is, however, so much more than just a fragrant tree! It plays a very important role in the early stages of a secondary ecological succession sequence.

After a forested area has experienced a disturbance (forest fire, wind storm, timber harvest, etc), the animals which feed on the fruit of Sassafras, like birds, squirrels, black bears, and foxes, can quickly disperse the seeds throughout the area. The rapid germination and growth of this tree over a wide range of soil conditions, as well as the influence of its many leaf and root chemicals on potential competitors, allow Sassafras to reach considerable densities and support the regenerative process of forest succession.

Keep and eye out for the fragrant leaves of Sassafras on your next visit to High Park!

FUN FACTS:

-Root beer was first made using the root bark of the sassafras tree

- Sassafras trees can only flower after 10 years

-Sassafrass is considered an indicator species that is characteristic of the Carolinian Forest Zone

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