What is it called when a plant has three different leaf shapes at once? I can’t figure it out, but that’s what going on with sassafras (Sassafras albidum, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8). Sassafras is an eastern North American native tree that grows in full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained, preferably fertile, slightly acidic soil. It’s the traditional source of file powder, which was used to thicken cajun gumbo, and sassafras is the traditional flavoring for root beer, though most root beers are flavored with artificial sassafras flavorings these days, since a major component of sassafras oil is now considered a carcinogen. I have fond memories of sassafras trees in the woods where I grew up in Virginia. I would always break off a twig and sniff its refreshing scent as I walked. Now I’ve read that sassafras can be used as an effective mosquito repellent. I should have been rubbing the twigs and leaves on my arms and legs!
I’m still stumped by the three-leaf-shape thing. Do you know a name for this characteristic, or know of another plant that has more than one leaf shape on the same plant? I’d love to know. Comment below!
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