Sassafras albidum

An encounter with a Sassafras is like an exercise in advanced, graduate-level tree identification. The Sassafras doesn’t grant the novice any of the same entry-level assistance that her arbor sisters offer. She doesn’t produce any noteworthy fruit or nut, and boasts no conspicuous flower. Her bark is relatively non-descript, and she doesn’t reach a grand height or caliper. At a cursory glance, her boughs diffuse into the verdancy of the forest without garnering attention or making any significant impression.

Yet playfully peeking out from the ends of her unassuming arms is a marvel unique to the Sassafras. For reasons inexplicable to man and truly known only by the dryads and God Almighty, the Sassafras produces three different leaf shapes on the same tree! Three different shapes in a triad of lobe counts. On any and every branch in any and every combination, she sends out unlobed ellipticals, asymmetrical two-lobed mittens, and three-pronged tridents. Like a capricious child dressing herself, she scatters them in apparent random order, as fanciful as a daydream and as predictable as a whim. She shrouds herself in elation and eccentricity. She does because she can. She can, and so she does.

The Cherry garners her festivals, and the Apple her orchards. The Locust enamors the drone. The Fir enraptures the jack. Maples are tapped, Beeches are carved, Oaks are revered, Aspens are ‘Grammed–and all the while the Sassafras stands and sways, unnoticed and unheralded, without pomp or praise.  The forest’s most demure denizen displays to us–seemingly for her own good pleasure and the delight of her Maker–variety and assortment in endless acreages of similarity. Individuality and creativity in a canopy of correlation.

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