Sassafras look alikes share the same leaf type, which can be hard to tell apart. They can feature as many as seven robes, while most may also have one, two, or three lobes, which are dark green leaves at least three to five inches long that get an assortment of colors during the fall. They can be yellow, red, purple, or orange, giving off a spicy smell when crushed.
Some plants resemble sassafras albidum in several ways, and our team has listed these plants below.
List of Sassafras Look Alikes
1. The Red Mulberry Tree (Morus Rubra)
The Red Mulberry is considered native to North America, growing throughout North Carolina in the rich red soils of the lower and middle parts of the state. This deciduous tree may grow up to around 30 to 50 feet tall with a short trunk of about two feet wide.
The red mulberry tree is a beautiful, almost evergreen tree that does not take up much space in the garden. It is a small tree that produces at least one-inch-long clusters of drupes that mature in summer. Its leaves are alternate, thin, and somewhat heart-shaped. They have a rough-toothed margin that features up to three lobes. The bark is light brown with long scaly ridges. Its fruits resemble strawberries and are very sweet when ripe.
These one-inch fruits are red to dark purple when ripe and edible for birds, humans, and wildlife. You can eat these fruits fresh or make them into jellies, jams, or wine. If you don’t harvest these fruits, they will fall off the tree and be very messy on the driveways and sidewalks. It can also stain vehicles, concrete patios, or walkways. When planting this tree, choose a spot that will not mess up your home with its ripe fruits.
The red mulberry is one of the plants similar to sassafras. It features leaves that resemble those of the sassafras tree. They come in various shapes, with some missing lobes while others have two or more. Red mulberry leaves turn yellow during the fall.
The distribution of this tree overlaps the sassafras in the eastern United States from Massachusetts to Florida in USDA hardiness zones five through nine.
– Growing Conditions
The red mulberry tree easily grows from cuttings or seeds. If left alone, it can also self-seed prolifically. It thrives in rich, moist soils that are well-drained. It likes to grow under full sun to partial shade. This tree will not do well in poor soils, so prune this tree in the winter to avoid bleeding and coming into contact with the white sap.
– Toxicity caution
Mulberry fruits can be poisonous if eaten when unripe. The milky white sap produced by all the parts of the tree is also poisonous. Avoid coming into contact with this sap, and don’t pick unripe fruits.
2. The Paper Mulberry Tree (Broussonetia Papyrifera)
The paper mulberry is native to Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Eastern China. It was introduced in America as a fast-growing ornamental shade tree. In its native countries, it is used in paper making. Its bark is used to create cloth in Hawaii and different parts of the South Pacific. This tree is known to invade open habitats like field edges and forests.
The paper mulberry is a large shrub or a small tree growing up to 30 feet tall with a mounded appearance. Its bark is pale brown and smooth with shallow grooves. It has alternate and opposite leaves that are lobed and sometimes unlobed. These heart-shaped leaves have serrated margins with light hairy pale undersides.
The flowers are separate males and females appearing in the spring. The male flower clusters are elongated at least two inches long and composed of many individual flowers. On the other hand, female flowers are rounded and about one meter in diameter.
The fruits are reddish purple to orange, maturing in summer. If pollinated, the female flowers produce reddish purple to orange fruits in balls that turn to seeds.
The paper mulberry is another plant similar to sassafras. The leaves are the most identifiable feature of this plant. They are small, simple ovate-shaped leaves with pointed tips and serrated margins.
Large leaves tend to resemble those of the sassafras trees. They come in a heart or mitten shape, some with three large or sometimes two smaller lobes near the base of the leaf. They have soft hairs on the lower side of the leaves. The leaves turn reddish brown in the fall and winter.
The paper mulberry is a tree that you should grow with caution. Once established, it grows quickly, displacing other native plants through shading and competition. If left alone, this tree can dominate a site very easily. It has shallow roots that make it susceptible to strong winds, posing a hazard to people and causing degradation and soil erosion.
Paper mulberry is not recommended by UF/IFAS and is listed as a species of caution. Once planted, it must therefore be highly managed to prevent overgrowing. Due to its ability to invade an area and displace native plants, it is listed as a category II invasive species by FLEPPC.
3. The White Mulberry Tree (Morus Alba)
The white mulberry is considered native to China and has been in the United States since the 17th century. It was brought here to establish a silk industry that never kicked off. In China, it has been a primary source of food for silkworms for close to 5,000 years. It is considered an invasive species in many states and restricted in some.
White mulberry has almost the same type of leaves as red mulberry but is slightly different. The leaves are simple, alternate, and smooth, with two to three lobes and a rounded appearance. They are round and heart-shaped at the base and toothed along the edges. The leaves can be undivided or lobed.
The undivided leaves are ovate, while the lobed ones have irregular shapes. They are glossy and smooth at the top and smooth and dull green at the bottom. The bark is orange-brown with small furrows.
The flower is yellow-green, emerging in early spring in readiness for fruits that come out in late spring or early summer. The fruits resemble blackberries ripening from white to pink to dark purple.
The white mulberry is also similar to sassafras. It has leaves that have little resemblance to those of the sassafras tree. They come in an array of shapes, some undivided while others have two or more lobes. The sassafras bark shares the same color, reddish or orange-brown, as this plant.
These trees grow at least 30 to 60 feet tall in USDA hardiness zones four through eight. It is one of the few unique trees that can grow in any soil condition. When planting a cultivar, give it the best conditions to thrive, providing it with rich loamy soil that drains well and a neutral pH level.
– Toxicity Caution
The white mulberry fruits are edible; they could be white, pink, or purple. However, when eaten unripe, the white sap causes gastric distress and hallucinations.
4. The Texas Mulberry Tree (Morus Microphylla)
The Texas mulberry, also known as the mountain mulberry, is native to Southwestern states like Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. It’s common to find it growing in the wild Texas hillsides undisturbed. It belongs to the Moraceae family and grows into a lovely medium-sized tree that is at least 20 to 36 feet tall.
The Texas mulberry is a medium tree with small green leaves and a pale bark. The leaves have three lobes that are pointy and have sawtooth-like serration along the edges. These leaves turn yellow in the autumn, creating a beautiful golden view. It has full flowers that produce clusters of tasty red, purple, or black fruits. These fruits ripen and are ready for eating in May.
The Texas mulberry carries some similarities to sassafras. Its leaves share the same features as those of the sassafras tree. They have two to three lobes and are ribbed at the margin, and these leaves turn yellow during the fall.
Growing these shrubs is easy in USDA zones five through nine. It is a great perennial tree that grows in a variety of soils, but it prefers dry soils with partial shade.
5. Northern Spicebush (Lindera Benzoin)
Northern spicebush is native to North America and traditionally used as a medicinal tea, just like the sassafras root. The sassafras tea made from the bark is used for treating urinary tract disorders and bronchitis, among other sicknesses.
It is an eye-catching and low-maintenance aromatic shrub that thrives almost all year round. When crushed, the spicebush leaves and twigs emanate a spicy fragrance and flavor.
The spicebush has alternate leaves with a smooth margin and produces an aroma when crushed. It has a gray-brown bark speckled with light-colored lenticels. Small yellow flowers emerge during the spring in axillary clusters.
The shrub produces red drupe and a peppery scent and taste. The spicebush fruits mature in the fall after the weather has cooled down, turning into a bright red color.
Sassafras and spicebush are very similar, especially when they are young plants. The two species are closely related, with the sassafras leaves having similar appearances and aromas to the spicebush. They grow in the same habitat, but sassafras can grow even in drier sites. Spicebush can tolerate deeper shade than sassafras.
The spicebush is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 8 to 15 feet tall. It can be found in rich and dry forests on swamps and slopes. It is sensitive to heat and drought and requires occasional watering. The plant’s female fruit sets need a male pollinator plant in order to reproduce.
The sassafras look alikes mentioned above are the primary plants you can mostly confuse with the sassafras plant, especially when they are young. Their leaves look so much alike and some even grow in the same habitat, making it hard to tell them apart.
- Some of these plants are invasive and require prior research to know if you can grow them in your area or not.
- If you want to grow any of these trees, try the red mulberry, the Texas mulberry, and the white mulberry as you will be able to enjoy the juicy berries they produce.
- Choose the location of any of these trees with caution so you can enjoy its benefits without any limitations.
- Always think long-term when growing any tree as it grows big and covers a large area over time.
Finally, sassafras look-alikes are easy to grow and are able to thrive in various growing conditions. Sassafras thrive in USDA hardiness zones four through nine and is commonly used for shade in most parts of America, and though all these trees have similarities, they still have some excellent measures of differences that make tree identification easy (like tree identification by their flowers), and that’s the beauty of every plant!
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