798 Tilia americanaCommon Names: American basswood, American linden, whitewood, beetree linden, white basswood Family: Tiliaceae (linden Family)
American basswood (usually called American linden in the horticultural business) is a stately and well formed deciduous tree with large heart-shaped leaves, a clean, straight trunk, and a broad, rounded crown. Basswood gets 60-80 ft (18.3-24 m) and occasionally over 100 ft (30.5 m) tall with a spread of about half its height. Young trees are columnar; mature trees develop a broad, spreading crown. The trunk is straight, free of branches for a considerable height, and the bark is light brown and smooth, becoming darker and deeply furrowed on older trees. The leaves are 4-8 in (10-29 cm) long and 3-5 in (7.6-13 cm) wide, broadest near the base and pointed at their tips. The leaves have coarsely toothed margins and may or may not be white and fuzzy on the underside. Plants with downy-white leaf undersides may be referable to var. heterophylla, usually called "white basswood."
Basswood has peculiar and very distinctive straplike leafy bracts from which are suspended clusters of sweetly fragrant (but not very showy) flowers. The bracts are the color and texture of leaves, and are 4-5 in (10-13 cm) long and about an inch wide. The flowers are about 1/3 in (0.8 cm) across, and borne in clusters of 10-20 which are suspended from the bracts on slender stalks. The flowers are pollinated by bees. Basswood fruits are round and woody, about 1/3" in diameter. Several cultivars have been selected. 'Fastigiata' is narrow and conical with ascending branches. 'Redmond' is pyramidal in form and has larger leaves.
Basswood grows in moist mixed hardwood forests, often associated with maples, oaks, and ashes. Some references list as many as sixteen species of basswood occurring in eastern North America. However, recent studies have concluded that all of the North American basswoods belong to a single, highly variable species, with three (sometimes) recognizable varieties: T. americana var. americana occurs in the Northeast, from New Brunswick west to North Dakota and south to Oklahoma and North Carolina; var. heterophylla occurs in the Appalachian region from Pennsylvania through Georgia and Alabama to the Florida Panhandle; and var. caroliniana occurs in the Southeast from North Carolina to central Florida and west to eastern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
CultureLight: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Not at all drought tolerant, American basswood does best in moist, but not water logged soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: Lindens are propagated from seed, and the cultivars are generally grafted onto seedlings. Seeds are very difficult to germinate and nursery operations employ considerable pre-treatment including cold stratification and acid scarification. If you just plant some fresh seeds in pots or in the ground and leave them outdoors, about 15% will germinate over a period of 2-3 years. Fortunately, seedlings and young trees are easy to transplant during the winter.
American basswood is a fine shade and street tree, although it is not used as much as the European and Asian lindens, which are a little smaller and more tolerant of urban conditions. This is a large tree, but well suited for parks and golf courses.
The soft, light colored and light weight, straight grained wood of American linden is used in cabinetry, interior paneling and trim, for musical instrument soundboards and for pulp. The tough and fibrous inner bark was probably used by all Native American peoples within its range for fabric, clothing, cordage, basketry, and canoe construction. The honey that bees make from American linden flowers is said to be of the finest quality.
The Tiliaceae is a cosmopolitan family with some 50 genera and 400 species. Little-leaf linden (Tilia cordata) from Europe, and silver linden (T. tomentosa) from Asia, are commonly grown as shade and street trees in Europe and the northern U.S. Other members of the family are important for timber and fiber. Jute (Corchorus capsularis) has been cultivated for centuries from Japan and China to Egypt, and especially in India; it is the source of a coarse fiber used to make twine and burlap.
Steve Christman 9/15/00; updated 6/24/03, 9/17/03