American linden or American Basswood (Tilia americana) is a medium to large upright deciduous tree with a neatly rounded crown. Leaves are alternate, large, heart-shaped (lopsided), and toothed along the margin (edge). The upper leaf is green, with a paler green underneath. Twigs are yellow-brown to brownish with a zig-zag pattern. Bark is smooth on young trunks and dark grayish-brown with many long, narrow, flatter-topped ridges. Small greenish yellow flowers hang below pale leafy bract in early summer, becoming ¼” round nuts that ripe in fall. American linden is considered an excellent source of nectar by bee-keepers. The decaying leaves, rich in nitrogen and minerals, contribute to soil fertility. This tree provides cavity nesting for woodpeckers, wood duck and other wildlife. Its flowers produce abundant nectar. In American the tree is valuable for its wood which is easy to work with in carpentry. The wood of American linden is valued for hand-carving and is often used as interior trim, veneer, plywood, and furniture parts.
The plant was introduced to Europe in 1752. Swedish born Carl Linnaeus, the originator of the binomial system of nomenclature, appropriately got his last name from the Linden. Carl’s father, Nils Ingemarsson, needed a last name to enroll in the university and decided to name himself after the large old tree on their farm. The tree a Linden or Tilia (in Latin) or Lind (in Swedish) (Blunt W., Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist, page 12). The Lindens are referred to in British literature as “lime” trees, a derivative of the word “Lind”. The common name “basswood” is derived from its bastwood in reference to the tough inner bark (the bast) which was used to make rope and mats.
Common name: American Linden, Basswood, Lime, Whitewood
Scientific Name (family and order): Tilia americana L. (Malvaceae, Malvales)
Species Origin: Eastern North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 60 – 80 ‘ high, bole 2 – 3’ diameter; broadly columnar.
Habitat: Zone 3 – 8.
Trunk/Stem: Bark is bown to gray ,cracked into long scaly ridges. Not unusual to find suckers emerging from the lower trunk.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Leaves 8” long x 6” wide. Heart-shaped without lobes but usually lopsided, abruptly tapered to a fine pointed tip (abruptly acuminate) with coarse pointed teeth, matte deep green above and paler beneath becoming smooth on both sides except of tufts of brown hairs in the vein axils beneath. Autumn color pale-yellow or yellow brown.
Flowers: Perfect. Flower cluster, a pendulous cyme, joins a lingulate bract (oblong extending 4”) and each division contains 5 – 10 fragrant flowers in cymes. Each flower had creamy white five petals and five sepals.
Fruits and seeds: Rounded woody pale gray-green fruit, an ovoid or spherical nutlet covered with fine reddish brown hairs containing 1 – 2 seeds, about 1/8” diameter. The leaflike bract carries the fruit with the wind.