|Atherosperma moschatum||black sassafras|
Origin : SE Australia including Tasmania
A beautiful evergreen tree which can grow up to 35 m in the wild, but less in gardens. Its narrow, 5-8 cm long leaves are leathery, and dark green above, grey-green and often silky hairy beneath, and are noticeably upright in habit. The edges occasionally have a small number of teeth. Numerous cream flowers are borne singly in the leaf axils in late spring or early summer; they are about 2-3 cm across. Male and female are borne on separate plants, the male densely hairy. The seeds are achenes – dry and small, with a thin seed-coat. The whole plant is very aromatic, and yields an essential oil.
The black sassafras was introduced in 1828 and again, by Harold Comber, in 1929. It now flowers earlier in the spring in Northern Ireland, presumably in response to the milder winters now experienced.
The genus name is derived from the Greek atheros - barb or spine, and sperma – seed (the seeds are long-pointed); moschatum, meaning musky, refers to the sweet aromatic scent of the plant.
Photographs from Mount Stewart Gardens, Co Down March 2003.