Sassafras or American Yellowwood


Am looking for a fast-growing shade tree for my backyard in St. Catharines (close to the lake). Hoping to have spring flowers and nice colour for fall (red, orange or yellow). Sassafras or American Yellowwood have been suggested. Any other suggestions? Also wondering if you know any place to source these hard to find trees.



I applaud you for wanting to plant a tree in your backyard. Both Sassafras or American Yellowwod are excellent choices.

Sassafras is a small, fast growing tree that can only flower after 10 years. It is interesting to know that the bark of the Sassafras produces an orange dye and the roots are used to make oil of Sassafras which is an ingredient in some soaps and perfumes. The brilliant display of fall foliage makes the Sassafras a must have in the garden.

Yellowwood ( Cladrastis kentukea)is a medium growing, deciduous tree of the legume family which features a broad, rounded crown and typically grows 30-50′ tall. The tree may not flower for the first 8-10 years, but once the bloom begins, it can be spectacular. Intensely fragrant, wisteria-like, white flowers in large, drooping, terminal panicles (10-15″ long) will virtually cover a mature tree in late spring.

You may also wish to consider:

Japanese zelkova  ( Zelkova serrata ) is a medium to large deciduous tree, typically growing to 50-80’ tall with a spreading, generally upward-branching, vase-shaped crown. It is native to Japan, Taiwan and eastern China. It is noted for its graceful shape and attractive bark. This tree has been promoted in recent years as a substitute for American elm (Ulmus americana) because of its resistance to Dutch elm disease.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) are known for their beautiful yellow-orange spring flowers, unusual leaf shape, yellow fall foliage, and attractive form. They grow 15 to 18 inches per year and can reach up to 100 feet tall.

Katsura-tree (Cercidiphyllum japonica) is medium-sized tree, it can grow up to about 18 m  in height, with a broad conical crown. The bark is brown or grayish brown and shaggy. In the fall, the leaves turn golden to red and give off a spicy-sweet odour.

Black Tupelo/ Gum  ( Nyssa sylvatica) is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, acidic soils. Tolerates poorly-drained soils and can grow in standing water. On the other end of the spectrum, it will tolerate some drought. This tree is known for its spectacular fall foliage plus it’s distinctive bark adds visual and textural interest to the winter landscape.

Cornell University’s Recommended Urban Trees: site assessment and tree selection for stress tolerance also has helpful information about each of your trees (including height/width and management issues that may arise).

Although the Toronto Master Gardeners cannot recommend specific nurseries or garden centres, we suggest that you visit Landscape Ontario’s website, which contains a list of local garden centres:

Good Luck with your planting.