blooming now, sassafras

April 8, 2010 at 8:18 PM Leave a comment

(Sassafras albidum) A NYC common tree of open, sunny sites. typically an early bloomer, but goodness really early this year (hello climate change). The flowers have a lovely fragrance.  These three critters think so too.  The tree is easy to identify any time of year, with it’s crooked, twisting branches and pagoda habit (winter), mitten-shaped leaves (summer) and blue berries rich in fats for migrating birds (fall).  Nearly all parts of the plant have a sharply spicy smell – same as its kin, spicebush.  These two members of the Laurelaceae family are both hosts to larvae (caterpillars) of spicebush swallowtail.  Humans also consumed the plant – Sassafras put the “root” in root beer until the FDA discovered that a chemical in sassafras called safrole caused cancer.  Killjoys. Photos taken in Conference House Park, Staten Island.

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