American Basswood or Linden – Tilia americana L.


American Basswood or Linden  Tilia americana
Family Tiliaceae – Basswoods, Lindens

have fragrant tiny flowers that attract a panoply
of pollinators and produce highly-valued honey.

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Two Lovely Basswood Trees
These lovely basswoods are two of the original Morton Arboretum collection, from seeds planted in 1923 [2]
Tilia is a genus of some 30 species distributed in three major regions today: eastern North America, eastern Asia, and western Europe. Fossil reamins are found in these same areas as well as in western North America, particularly in the Tertiary.

American basswood or Linden is a native North American deciduous tree. The northernmost Tilia species, it is a large, rapid-growing tree of eastern and central hardwood woodlands. Best growth is in the central part of the range on deep, moist soils; development is vigorous from sprouts as well as seed. American basswood is an important timber tree, especially in the Great Lakes States. The soft, light wood has many uses in wood products. The tree is also well known as a honey-tree, and the seeds and twigs are eaten by wildlife. It is commonly planted as a shade tree in urban areas of the eastern states.

Mature heights range from 75 to 130 feet (23-40 m) with diameter ranges from 36 to 48 inches (91-122 cm). The bark of mature trees is up to 1 inch (2.54 cm) thick at the base of the trunk. The bark is furrowed into narrow, flat-topped, firm ridges with characteristic horizontal cracks; young trees have smooth, thin bark. The inflorescence is a drooping axillary cyme. The fruit is dry, hard, indehiscent, subglobose to short-oblong, and is usually 0.2 to 0.28 inch (5-7 mm) in diameter, and bears one or two seeds.

Native Range:
American basswood ranges from southwestern New Brunswick and New England west in Quebec and Ontario to the southeast corner of Manitoba; south through eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas to northeastern Oklahoma; east to northern Arkansas, Tennessee, western North Carolina; and northeast to New Jersey.

American Basswood heart-shaped leaflet
Basswood seeds are eaten by mice, squirrels, and chipmunks, thus reducing the chances of seedling establishment. Many different insects attack basswood, but few serious insect problems exist. The linden borer (Saperda vestita) makes long, irregular tunnels, particularly at the base of the tree, and may damage weak, very young, or very old trees. Local infestations of defoliators may occur. The primary ones include the linden looper (Erannis tiliaria), basswood leafminer (Baliosus nervosus), spring cankerworm (Paleacrita vernata), fall cankerworm (Alsophila pometaria), whitemarked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma), gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), and forest tent caterpillar. In New England, American basswood is a highly preferred host for gypsy moth, while in southern Quebec, it was classified as susceptibe to gypsy moth defoliation.
linden tree Japanese beetle damage
Skeletonized by Japanese beetle linden foliage
The relatively recent introduction of the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) into North America has placed several varieties of lindens into jeopardy through defoliation, especially the little-leaf linden Tila cordata. The beetles can skeletonize and defoliate an entire tree in as little as a few weeks. (See our article "What's eating my Linden?")

The flowers possess a nectar which attracts bees and produces a strong flavored honey. When this tree is in flower it will be full of bees, hence its common name "Bee Tree". During the three weeks that the Lindens bloom, bees forsake most other flowers. The honey that they make of Linden nectar is white in color, and highly regarded. The flowers when gathered and dried can be used to make tea. Linden flowers are used in the manufacture of perfumes.

When the flowers go to seed they form small nutlets that contain 1 or 2 seeds each, clustered beneath large leafy wing bracts which act as parachutes.

The fruits are woody and about the size of peas.  The leaves are heart-shaped, 2-3 inches long. Linden wood is soft and creamy, and it is much favored by woodcarvers because of its workability (it is said to "cut like cheese") and its even grain. In past centuries it was used to make ship's figureheads and cigar-store Indians. Today it is used for broom handles, beehive frames, piano sounding boards and certain parts of guitars. — USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet
Linden bracts and fruit
Linden bracts and fruit. (Bracts are the very light green structures)
Special Uses – Basswood has relatively soft wood that works exceptionally well and is valued for hand carving and has many other uses including cooperage, boxes, veneer, excelsior, and pulp. Basswood is economically important for timber, especially in the Great Lakes States. The inner bark, or bast, can be used as a source of fiber for making rope or for weaving such items as baskets and mats. Basswood flowers produce an abundance of nectar from which choice honey is made. In fact, in some parts of its range basswood is known as the bee-tree.  –USDA Forest Service Silvics Manual
1. , Flora of China, Tilia mongolica
2. Morton Arboretum acc. Acc. 2122-23*1 & 2 photos by Bruce Marlin
Tree Encyclopedia / North American Insects & Spiders is dedicated to providing scientific and educational resources for our users through use of large images and macro photographs of flora and fauna.

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Family Tiliaceae – Basswoods, Lindens
50 genera and 400 species; widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, with relatively few species in temperate regions. Especially abundant in Southeast Asia and Brazil.   The leaves of all the Tilias are heart-shaped and most are asymmetrical, and the tiny fruit, looking like peas, always hang attached to a ribbon-like, greenish bract.  Tree Encyclopedia | Tree Index | Tiliaceae Index