Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sassafras Trees bursting into bloom

The Sassafras trees (Doryphora sassafras) of Robertson are bursting into blossom. Their sweet scent hangs on the air. Despite cold winds, one can smell these trees many metres away.
The bright green leaves of this plant are heavily aromatic. To my nose they seem to have a scent reminiscent of rind of Mandarin fruits, but other people describe it as having a nutmeg odour. Either way, the presence of the strong odour in the leaves is used by plants people to confirm the identity of a Sassafras tree in the rainforest, where many plants have similarly shaped, dark green leaves.

These trees only seem to flower heavily every two or three years. In this image you can see the tip of my finger, for scale.
I have shown numerous photos of the Sassafras trees which grow around my house. However, I have not published a good close-up image of the flowers before. My previous effort was photographed on 21 September 2006 - a very late season flowering indeed - and three years ago, which confirms my impression of their irregular flowering.

The flowers are seldom unblemished, for some reason. Possibly it is because of their sweet perfume, which means they have evolved to attract insects. Robertson abounds in insects - moths and midges and other small creatures.
Click to enlarge the image to see the parts of the flower clearly.
The botanical texts say that Sassafras is pollinated by mosquitoes, but just at present, there are few if any of them around - because of the cool weather. So that fact calls into question the botanist's assertions.

For those in other districts who are familiar with another plant known as "Sassafras" those might be the Black (or Southern) Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum).
Both these trees are both in the family Monimiaceae.

They both derive their name from a superficial resemblance to an American plant of the same name which is also highly aromatic in all its parts. The Australian plants and the American plant are not closely related.

"Sassafras" is used as a place name as well. There is a district in the southern end of the Shoalhaven Valley (NSW) named after this tree, and a village in the Dandenongs named after the more southerly "Sassafras" plant - the Black Sassafras.

1 comment:

mick said...

A very interesting post. It sounds like a lovely tree to have in the garden. The close-ups are great as always. I'm still working on mine - the birds keep on distracting me :-(