I love surprises and today I got one! As I hiked down the steepest part of the trail above Meetinghouse Creek I came eye to eye with a fruiting Sassafras tree. I've walked past this small tree all summer, but it wasn't until today that the red cups holding the tree's fruit finally caught my eye. What a beautiful little creation! The greenish - purplish berries had a soft "bloom" similar to grapes and blueberries. Being larger than the cups, they looked exactly like miniature eggs perched atop miniature egg cups. So cute!
I love Sassafras trees. When I was little I would pull small trees up by the roots so my friends and I could make Sassafras tea. The fall brings out the best in a Sassafras when the leaves turn vivid oranges and reds, and a few years ago I discovered the lovely yellow Sassafras flowers blooming in the spring. For some reason I never gave a thought to the fact that flowers lead to fruit. Duh. One of my field guides says that with Sassafras fruit production is sparse, as it also reproduces through lateral root offshoots. Hmm... could that be the reason I haven't seen them before today? (Oh, I'm sure it is!) Regardless, now that I've seen them I want to run around to all my known Sassafras trees and see how many are in fruit. But I'll have to do it soon - the book also notes that the fruit provides an important food for wildlife, and we have a lot of that around. Munch munch.
Two more fun facts to know and tell from The Guide to the Wildflowers of SC, by Doug Rayner and Richard Porcher: 1) Sassafras oil is used to flavor tobacco, root beer, and other beverages, soaps, perfumes, and gums, and 2) Young leaves are ground into a fine powder to produce the mucilaginous gumbo of creole cooking. That doesn't make gumbo sound very appetizing, does it? I think I'd rather eat the fruit!