Sassafras is native to the entire eastern half of the United States, including all of Ohio. However, it is most frequent in the acidic soils of southeastern Ohio, and predominates in more southern states with warmer winters; in both habitats, it invades fence rows, abandoned fields, and sprouts up around old barns.
Sassafras is a rapidly growing colonizer, and forms thickets primarily by root sprouts several feet away from the parent plant. Straight-trunked saplings may be repeatedly cut every few years to use as primitive stakes (as is done with some forms of bamboo).
Oil of Sassafras can be distilled from the trunk bark or roots for use in perfuming soaps, while Sassafras tea is made by boiling the bark of roots.
This tree can reach a height of 50 feet tall by 30 feet wide when found in the open. Its brittle green twigs have a spicy aroma when rubbed or crushed, as one would expect from a member of the Laurel Family, which includes the closely related Spicebushes.
Planting Requirements - Sassafras prefers moist, well-drained, acidic, deep soils of average quality, but adapts to soils that are neutral in pH and dry. In alkaline soils, it tends to become slightly chlorotic. It thrives in full sun to partial sun, and is found in zones 4 to 9.
Potential Problems - Sassafras can have several diseases and pests, but these are usually minor or cosmetic in nature. More common problems are moderate chlorosis in high pH soils, and brittle twigs and branchlets that break off under high winds or ice loads, usually on old trees that become more gnarled with age.