Laurel Family

Northern Spicebush Sassafras Sassafras Sassafras

What are they?

The Laurel Family is a large family of some 2000-3000 species, though the vast majority of them are found in the world's tropical zones, and only two woody species reach New Jersey as natives. This is the family that includes the Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis that is used in cooking (and as headware by Roman emperors!) but should not be confused with the garden laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) used for hedging in some areas and which is related to the cherries and a member of the rose family.

Where are they found?

Sassafras is a pioneer tree and is most common in young, emergent woodland; Northern Spicebush is uncommon on the coastal plain and most likely to be found in primary woodland - though it is also grown as a garden plant.


See the individual species for notes on identification.

Northern Spicebush      Lindera benzoin

A fairly common species of northern New Jersey but much rarer in the coastal plain, where it is found as an understorey shrub in rich woodland. Flowers April to May. Flowers appear variable as male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, while some flowers may have both male and female parts. Though the leaves are rather nondescript, they have a similar look and texture to the leaves of Sassafras and a family association can be deduced from their appearance.

Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush
Flowers on bare stems,
before leaves open
Close-up of flower

Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush Northern Spicebush
Winter stem
Winter flower buds
Winter leaf bud

Sassafras      Sassafras albidum

A very common large bush to small tree, often appearing as a common constituent of developing scrub woodland. Found throughout Cape May County. Flowers late April to May. Variously-lobed leaves are distinctive and easily recognised and the black berries on bright red stalks are eaten by many bird species, especially American Robins and Eastern Kingbirds.
Sassafras Sassafras Sassafras Sassafras
Sassafras Sassafras Sassafras Sassafras
Leaves sometimes all unlobed
Young bark
flower bud