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Tilia americana var. heterophylla

Common Name(s):
Beetree linden, White basswood
Edible Plants, Native Plants, Trees

Tilia americana, commonly called American basswood or American linden, is a medium to large deciduous tree which typically grows to 50-80’ (infrequently to over 100’) tall with an ovate-rounded crown. It is native to a variety of habitats from Quebec to the southeastern corner of Manitoba and far eastern North Dakota south to Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Carolina, with concentrations in forested areas of the Appalachian Mountains and along the Ohio River Valley to Missouri. Trees are found in both dry upland areas as well as moist, low woods.  The bark is smooth and gray/green in young trees.  As the tree ages, the bark turns gray/brown and develops shallow furrows and fibrous flat top ridges.

The common name of basswood is derived from bastwood, in reference to the tough inner bark (bast) which has been used to make rope and mats. Trees are commercially harvested, particularly in the Great Lakes region, for their light wood which is used to make such items as furniture, shipping crates, boxes, and veneer. Common name of linden plus the family name of Linneaus (famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus was ennobled as Carl von Linne) both derive from lind which is the Swedish word for a linden tree.

When a tree is in full bloom, bees often visit in such abundant numbers that humming can be heard many feet from the tree.   It does not tolerate air pollution or urban condtions. When injured the tree produces a sweet mucilaginous sap.

This tree is noted for its (a) cymes of fragrant, pale yellow, late spring flowers, (b) small nutlets which follow the flowers and ripen by late summer, (c) mucilaginous sap, (d) noticeable winter buds, and (e) large ovate dark green leaves (to 6” long) with acuminate tips, serrate margins, often silvery undersides and uneven cordate bases.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont

Seasons of Interest:

     Bloom: Late spring (June)  Fruit (Nut): Early summer  Buds/twigs:  Winter, tinged red

Wildlife:  This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.  It is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.  Butterflies and other insects nectar at the flowers.  Songbirds and small mammals eat the seeds.  Old trees often contain hollows used for cover by wildlife.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Verticillium wilt is infrequent, but can be fatal. Powdery mildew, leaf spots and cankers may occur. Insect visitors include borers, beetles, lacebugs, caterpillars and scale. Spider mites can do significant damage, particularly in hot, dry periods.  Powdery mildew, leaf spots and cankers may occur.  This tree does not survive well in city conditions. 

Try these trees for urban environments:  T. cordataT. tomentosa 

Formerly known as Tilia heterophylla.

50-80 ft.
The flowers of the White basswood bloom in June in 5-10 flowered cymes. Each cyme droops from a showy, papery, narrow, leaf-like bract (to 5” long) where it is attached to the bract at a point somewhere between the base and midpoint. When a tree is in full bloom, bees often visit in such abundant numbers that humming can be heard many feet from the tree. Honey made from the nectar of these flowers is a prized gourmet item. Flowers have also been used to make tea. Syrup can be made from the sweet tree sap. Var. heterophylla, formerly known as Tilia heterophylla, is very similar to the straight species except for (1) leaf undersides are whitish, (2) flowers are slightly smaller but arranged in larger 10-25 flowered cymes, and (3) native range is more southern (southwestern Pennsylvania and Maryland along the Ohio River to Missouri south to Mississippi and North Carolina).
The White basswood is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It will tolerate some drought. It prefers moist, fertile, well-drained loams. Generally intolerant of air pollution and urban conditions.
Ovate, rounded
Full sun to partial shade
Small nutlet
Honey made from the nectar of these flowers is a prized gourmet item. Flowers are used to make tea and syrup can be made from the sweet tree sap.
30-60 ft.
Growth Rate:
The White basswood has large, ovate dark green leaves with serrate margins, uneven cordate bases, and silvery undersides. Its all color is an insignificant yellow-green but the buds and small twigs provide winter interest with their red color.
songbirds, tree, deciduous, low maintenance, bees, drought tolerant, shade, fragrant, street tree, butterflies, honeybees, native, winter interest, fragrant flowers, wildlife

NCCES plant id: 3185

Tilia americana var. heterophylla Form
James Steakley, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Tilia americana var. heterophylla Leaves emerging
Salicyna, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Tilia americana var. heterophylla Dormant buds tinged red provide winter interest
Plant Image Library, CC-BY-SA-2.0