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Basswood, aka American linden, is a wide-spreading, round-topped tree that provides dense shade and grows at a moderate pace to 60 or 80 feet. It usually has two or more trunks, soft green foliage that turns yellow or brown in fall, and fragrant yellow flowers that are so rich with nectar that this “bee tree” literally hums in spring. Basswood has wide-reaching wildlife benefits (see below), and is easily identified by prominent, lipstick-red buds. While it prefers to be in part sun and moist, well-drained soil, it is highly adaptable to soil conditions and is tolerant of shade.


Native habitats include moist upland woods and slopes, protected bluffs, bottomland woodlands, sandy woodlands, stream drainages, riverbanks, and slopes of wooded ravines. Basswood excels as a shade or ornamental tree in lawns or woodland areas.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 60-80’ (sometimes up to 130’) tall and 30-60’ wide.


Flourishes in full to part sun; tolerates dense shade.


Prefers moist, well-drained soils; tolerates alkaline, clay, and dry soils. Can handle occasional drought.


Edible yellow flowers appear in 5”-long clusters from May-June. The fruits appear as pea-sized, cream-colored nutlets attached to stalks with a persistent “wing” that aids in wind dispersal.


Leaves are broadly oval, medium to dark green, and coarsely serrated. The soft leaves are nicknamed "nature's toilet paper." Fall color is yellowish green to brown.


There are often several trunks. Bark is silvery gray and smooth or finely ridged when young. Mature bark is dark gray to black with long ridges and furrows.


Wildlife Value:

A host plant for 151 species of Lepidoptera, including question mark and mourning cloak butterflies, royal walnut and blinded sphinx moths (all pictured here), and specialist moth Eastern panthea. Bumble and other native bees, treehoppers, beetles, and many other insects feed on the tree. Songbirds and blue jays, chipmunks, squirrels, porcupines, rabbits, and mice eat the nutlets. The heartwood in older trees tends to rot and create cavities and nesting locations for many types of wildlife.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Flowers are used in hot baths or as a tea to alleviate symptoms of a cold and promote restful sleep.


Tender springtime leaves may be added to salads, and the buds are sometimes eaten as trail food. A decent chocolate substitute is made by grinding the young fruits and flowers together. Sap may be collected and boiled down to make a syrup.


The soft, nearly white wood is a favorite of wood carvers. It’s also used for frames of honeycombs, crates for foods and fruits, barrels, venetian blinds, bodies of electric guitars, and veneer for parts of cabinets and furniture. The common name basswood was derived from Native Americans’ use of the fibrous inner bark, or “bast,” to make cords and ropes. Subsequently, pioneers began to call the tree “bastwood.”

Basswood, American, Tilia americana

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