Mystery Plant – August 2009

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The winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries. The correct answer and winner will be announced on the following eLetter’s contest page. In the event there is no correct response, no prize will be awarded. The Taunton Press is not responsible for system breakdowns or lost emails.

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The winner will receive a free one-year subscription to Fine Gardening magazine. If the winner is a current subscriber, a year will be added to his/her subscription term. The prize is non-transferable, and no cash substitutions will be made. The total value of this prize is $29.95. All taxes are the responsibility of the prize winner.

Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

If you know the genus and species of this month’s mystery plant, you could win a free one-year subscription to Fine Gardening . Send your entry, along with your complete mailing address, by August 30, 2009 to [email protected] . The winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries.

Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Last month’s mystery plant was sassafras (Sassafras albidum), a North American native tree that spreads by suckers and often forms large colonies. The tree can grow to 80 feet tall and is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. It prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, fertile, well-drained, acidic soil. Sassafras is unique in that its leaves come in three different shapes. In fall, sassafras foliage turns brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. All parts of the plant are aromatic, and smell like root beer. File powder, a traditional ingredient in gumbo, is made from ground sassafras leaves. Harold T. Kulp of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was chosen at random from all correct entries to receive a free one-year subscription to Fine Gardening. Congratulations, Harold!

What eLetter subscribers have to say about Sassafras albidum:

“Sassafras grows all over around here in Northern Virginia. It’s a wonderful tree, but can be a bit invasive. I like to make walking sticks and find that the right size sassafras dug up with its main root intact makes a nice homey stick.”
-John E. Hunter, Lovettsville, Virginia

“I learned to recognize this plant when I was working on my Tree badge for the Girl Scouts growing up in New York City. So even a city girl knows some things!”
-Ann J. Docherty, Milford, Connecticut

“When I was kid, I used the leaves for play money ($1s, $2s and $3s). After a hard day riding my bike through the woods, this cowgirl would saunter into the bar and slap down some money for an iced tea. Ahhhhhh. I was rich!”
Karol (and James) Tortorelli, Kevil, Kentucky

“Years ago I was a nature counselor at a camp in Middleboro, Massachusetts. One time I took the kids on a hike and found some sassafras. We ended up making sassafras tea from some of the roots. Even the leaves smelled good.
-Kathy Grandmaison, Swansea, Massachusetts

“I recognized this one right away! I love the  interesting leaves. There is a patch of this growing by the lake near my house.
-Laura Mcdonald, Wayland, Massachusetts

“A great plant. I used it to start many a cookout fire, in the rain, when I was a camp counselor. Also makes great, though fuzzy, lemonade.”
-Susan Glidden, Battle Creek, Michigan

“When I was a kid in Delaware we used to pull up the roots, peel back the bark, and chew on them. They smell better than they taste, but we made sassafras tea that was good and had its own sweetness.”
-Nancy Evans, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

“As a kid in Boy Scouts, I used to dig the roots and make tea. Good stuff.”
-Herbert Sparks, Charlotte, North Carolina

“This is my son’s favorite tree since his scout troop found out you can make “root beer” from its roots! I love it for the mittens.”
-Carol F. Hall, Rockville, Maryland

“The mystery plant is Sassafras albidum or “mitten tree” as it is known in our home. It was the first tree my kids could identify by sight and smell!”
-Linda Wurm, Waltham, Massachusetts

“We have them all over our farm here in central KY! I would love to know what more to do with them (tea, etc).”
-Beth Waldridge, Waddy, Kentucky

“This has been my favorite tree since I was a small child growing up in tobacco country in rural Maryland.”
-Mary Michaelis, Columbia Station, Ohio

“Sassafras grows here in my yard. When I’m leading walks for our Land Trust, I always show it to kids, who get a kick out of the mitten leaves.”
-Laurene Gerrior, Rochester, Massachusetts

“It is a native plant in our wooded area, and it is the only plant that can have three leaf shapes at the same time. One is oblong, one has a “thumb” and one has two “thumbs”. Very interesting plant. I always point this out to visitors.”
-Cindy Lussier, Southampton, Massachusetts

“It always makes me smile!”
-Linda Myers, Cockeysville, Maryland

“During my childhood my family would harvest roots from the multitude of sassafras trees that grew wild in the back fields of my parents property, mainly to make sassafras tea.”
-Ron Usilton, Camden-Wyoming, Delaware

“Its leaves can develop with different numbers of lobes, so your photo was great! It is native to North America and is famous for its amazing fall colors: orange, pink, yellow, red and even purple!”
-Kath Holland, North Easton, Massachusetts

“This is a familiar tree to us Marylanders!”
-JoAnne Hildebrand, Port Republic, Maryland

“I have one in my yard that is rather gnarled, and it doesn’t have many branches, but its autumn show of yellow lights the entire interior of the back of my house.”
-Rhetta Goebel, Lawrenceville, Georgia

“Having grown up with this small tree in our southern woodlands and digging a few roots to boil into sassafras tea on camping trips I recognized it by its unique leaves.”
-Jerry W. Weise, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

“When I was growing up in Tennessee, many teachers told us that if we were camping and did not have our toothbrush, we could use the frayed end of a sassafras branch.”
-Pam Sohn, Signal Mountain, Tennessee

“I grew up in North Western Pennsylvania and we loved to make iced tea from it!”
-Jennifer Allen, Dunbarton, New Hampshire

“When I was a kid, our class went to camp for a week. It was an experimental program, and all the fifth graders participated. Classes were like those in regular school, only with an outdoor twist. For me, and most of my classmates, this was our first real experience with nature. In one class, we learned to identify plants. The sassafras was the first of these, and by far, my favorite. Not only are the leaves friendly and easy to recognize, but the smell of the root and bark is wonderful. So any time I see sassafras, it reminds me of my introduction to the world of plants. Thanks for the smile.”
-Marina Cannon, Springfield, Missouri

“There are beautiful stands of this plant along the roadsides near my home. The fall color is especially spectacular. I just wish it were easier to find in garden centers.”
-Julie Finucane, Owosso, Michigan

“I love this tree and have tried transplanting one from my uncle’s farm in Grass Lake, Michigan, to no avail. It reminds me of my childhood!”
-Carol F. Wetzel, Traverse City, Michigan


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