Monday, October 12, 2015

Football Tree?

One tree that can be identified by the leaves is the sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Crush any one of the three types of leaves found on this tree and you will sniff a scent similar to root beer. Most people know about the Native Americans using parts of the sassafras tree for medicine and pioneers using the roots to make tea. However, wildlife such as deer, rabbits, bears, moths, butterflies, and birds rely on the sassafras for a variety of needs.

In addition to sniffing the crushed leaves, another important identification clue is to look at the leaves carefully. Sassafras trees have three kinds of leaves.

You read that correctly, 3 types of leaves. Naturalists sometimes use this fact to help children recognize sassafras trees. They refer to the term "football tree" because children can visualize each type of leaf by comparing it with something related to the game of football.

One leaf is shaped like a football.
One leaf is shaped like a gloved hand passing the ball.
(Or a hand wearing mittens, required in the cold)
One leaf is shaped like the goal post.
 (Or a referee calling a touchdown) 

Interestingly enough, you may or may not find all three types of leaves on every branch. Looking for all 3 leaves gives children an opportunity to carefully observe tree leaves.

Go on a hike and observe the fall leaves. While you are viewing nature, see if you can help someone identify a sassafras tree.