Doryphora sassafras

Sassafras, Yellow-, Canary- or Golden Sassafras or Golden Deal

Family: Atherospermataceae

Family: Atherospermataceae

A tree that can grow to a height of potentially 40 metres.

It has a mostly coastal distribution in NSW, extending into the central and northern tablelands, north from around Bega, Widespread on the coast and ranges north from the Bega district. It just extends into Queensland to the Gold Coast and Gold Coast Hinterland towards Warwick. 

It is typically found in warm temperate and subtropical rainforest and can persist as remnant trees in gardens on cleared rainforest blocks. It is one of the 3 dominant trees of southern NSW warm-temperate rainforest together with Ceratopetalum apetalum (Coachwood) and Acmena smithii (Lilly Pilly). Often found on enriched sandstone soils or volcanic loams as well as enriched shales. 

It is a straight-trunked tree generally with a small to medium crown (although this creates a lot of shade) – its grey-brown trunk reaching a diameter of 1.2 m. 

Doryphora spp. have opposite and simple leaves. In this species, leaves are dark green and glossy, elliptic to oval to lanceolate, to 10 cm long, 2 to 4 cm wide, with margins having shallow to deep teeth; with a pleasant ‘sassafras’ scent when crushed (to the Editor, they smell akin to the inside of an antique furniture shop where beeswax polish has been applied – which is possibly an unhelpful and outdated likeness in this day and age). Reportedly, individual leaves can last up to 12 years on any tree. 

Doryphora spp. have bisexual flowers with 2 to 3 petals and sepals making up the perianth, with up to 20 stamens (some of which are infertile (staminodes). In this species, small white flowers, with 3 petals and 3 sepals, occur in groups of three, each flower 1 to 2 cm across, on short axillary stalks from May to July. Flowers are reportedly fragrant. It is reported that flowers are pollinated by mosquitoes and crane flies. 

The following fruits and a cluster of achenes which are surrounded by a receptacle, with the whole structure about 20 mm long. Each achene is hairy and dark brown, ripening from February to August. 

In the garden

A good specimen tree with attractive foliage. Unfortunately, it that is too large for average gardens. However, it could be considered as a great shade and habitat tree on a larger block. 

It will grow best in partial shade to full sun with a moist well-drained composted soils. Will withstand light frosts. 

The fragrant blooms cover the tree, at canopy level in the rainforest.  The bark is also fragrant. 

Might be useful as a street tree. It likely does not grow overly quickly. 

Plants are available commercially. 


From the small seed which are slow to germinate.

Other information

Doryphora is a genus of plant in the family Atherospermataceae.

It contains four species, two endemic to Australia and two to New Caledonia.

One species is currently recognised in NSW.  

The other Australian species is Doryphora aromatica occurring in north-east Queensland. 

The yellowish soft timber is used in floors, turnery, and cabinet work.

This plant is unlikely to be found in fire prone areas but this condition may be subject to change with climate change. It was likely existing in areas burnt in 2019-2020 in NSW. It may be able to resprout from general suckering and often large trees have stems suckering from the base. 

Doryphoraa composite of two Ancient Greek words, dory (δόρυ), meaning “spear” and phérō (φέρω) “to carry” or “bear”. This refers to the spear-like appearance of the stamens in the flowers.

sassafras Latin – this epithet is a genus in itself in the family Lauraceae. It likely refers to the genus, and mainly Sassafras albidum, due to it having similarly odorous leaves.  

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001).Australian Native Plants ,cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th

NSW Flora online (PlantNET) Doryphora sassafras profile page:    https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Doryphora~sassafras

Wikipedia profile page for Doryphora sassafras          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doryphora_sassafras

Robinson, L. (2003). Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney. Third Edition. (Kangaroo Press, 2003).

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke