2016

 
 

World-wide there are several trees loosely known as Sassafras trees. The most well-known is the North American Sassafras, or Sassafras albidum, a beautiful and aromatic tree that was one of the first trees brought back to Europe from the new world. There is another sassafras however that is just as decorative. This sassafras comes from the southern hemisphere and hence is known as the Southern Sassafras, or Atherosperma moschatum, and is a monotypic species, or the only member of its genus. To be clear, the Southern Sassafras is a member of the same family as the American Sassafras, which is Laurales, but that is a distant connection and the main factor that the two share is the fragrant oil from the bark. Aside from that, the two have little in common. The Southern Sassafras, also known as Blackheart Sassafras, is evergreen, unlike the American sassafras. The leaves, like most members of the Laurel family, are aromatic. They are finely-toothed, glossy green, leathery and very handsome. This native of South-east Australia and Tasmania, is also covered in masses of beautiful, white flowers in earliest spring which are also fragrant.

In cultivation this choice tree is very well suited to urban environments. It is conical in shape, small to medium sized, and reaches heights of only 20 to 30 feet, though in the forests of Tasmania it has exceeded 100 feet. It is also densely branched and evergreen, hence Southern sassafras makes an excellent choice for wind-break or privacy screen. The bark is grey to light brown, bumpy and ridged, and when bruised, emits a wonderful nutmeg scent.

Once again, here is another splendid tree that offers numerous aesthetic and practical assets and yet is woefully under utilised, especially in the northern hemisphere. One limiting factor could possibly be its preference for cool, moist climates with rich and well-drained soils. This would qualify it for the warmer parts of the UK, America's Pacific Northwest and possibly Canada's British Columbia. It will not tolerate harsh winters, nor blazing summers. But for the moderate coastal area, Southern sassafras would be a unique ornamental with plenty of useful attributes.

Southern sassafras

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