Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sassafras albidum...I was admiring the Tigereye sumac when this small tree across the streetcaught my glance

Same great colors and it wasn't purchased, planted, or tended. Good deal. There was Sassafras growing under the bamboo in the back of our garden when we moved in 25 years ago. Now that the bamboo is disappearing, the sun will return and ours will color up as nicely as this one has. The land on which our suburban neighborhood stands was once a sand and gravel operation so these plants are either relict specimens or colonizers.

I don't too often take issue with Wikipedia, but I've been in and around the nursery industry most of my adult life and Sassafras is not "often grown as an ornamental plant", unless you credit Nature or God as gardeners. It ought to be more widely used. I did a design many years ago somewhere in East Silver Spring; next door to the property was a mature Sassafras almost 2 feet in diameter. It was fall and the leaf colors were the same as in the pictures above. I fell in love, and went through a period where I put it in designs pretty regularly but seem to have gotten away from that.

I don't remember, but I'm sure Sassafras was one of the first trees I learned to identify. Back before curricula were honed and focused to maximize scoring on mandated standardized texts, skeletonizing leaves or making wax paper mounts or ink prints from leaves were regular fall activities. We all learned, before we were fifth-graders, that Sassafras had 3 kinds of leaves: right-hand mittens, left-hand mittens, and mittens with two thumbs. And we liked that the leaves are fragrant. Fifty years ago we learned that the roots were used to flavor beverages and candy. Now that a potential carcinogen, saffrole, has been isolated that's no longer true but if you crush a leaf or scratch a twig or root it still smells great. Now, fifty years later, saffrole is an important chemical in the manufacture of MDMA, Ecstasy. An interesting turn of events.

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