Scientific Name: Atherosperma Moschatum
Sassafras has the most variable dynamic colouring of all Tasmanian timbers. It grows in Tasmania's wet eucalyptus rain forest where it can live for up to 200 years and can grow to a height of 45m and one metre in diameter.
It is an aromatic tree that is evergreen. The bark, sap and oils smell like cinnamon and its leaves have a strong sarsaparilla scent. If the tree is infected with a staining fungus it produces Blackheart sassafras. Blackheart is a timber with distinctive dark brown, black and even green streaks running through the wood. Blackheart is highly prized for its decorative features and comes with a guarantee that no two pieces are ever the same.
Tasmanian sassafras grows well with reasonably fertile soil. It releases large quantities of feathery seeds in summer that can be widely dispersed. Its numbers are well maintained and it is not considered threatened, as over 80% of Tasmanian Sassafras grows inside protected reserves. Sassafras is mostly sourced from eucalypt forests that are certified to the Australian Forest Certification Scheme, meaning they practise sustainable harvesting. It is rarely cultivated because of its specific temperature and moisture requirements, which are difficult to replicate outside of natural rainforests. Its availability is limited and it tends to be exported only rarely and in small amounts.
Tasmanian sassafras is one of the most abundant species in Tasmania’s native rainforests, particularly throughout the eastern and western mountain ranges as it thrives in cool, damp, well-drained soil.
Ecological And Cultural Importance
Tasmanian sassafras is an important part of the rainforest ecosystem as it is the primary host for over 50 lichen species. The trees are critical for the survival of many of these lichen species, particularly in the fire-prone Tasmanian eucalyptus woodland.
Tasmanian sassafras is frequently used for its timber, which is solid yet light and does not readily split. While it has poor in-ground and external durability it is great for internal applications. It is quite soft and easily worked both by hand and with tools, lending itself to use in furniture, panelling, joinery, veneers and woodturning.