Linden trees are a statuesque, deciduous species renowned for their stunning foliage, heavy flowering, and handsome form. Throughout history, the linden tree has been prized for its wood (its fine grain makes for beautiful furniture) as well as the delicious honey its bountiful nectar produces. The species is most commonly found throughout Europe and North America, although some sub-species have also been cultivated in parts of Asia. Because of their size, lindens are most typically planted as street trees, but also make a popular choice in parks and large public areas.
The linden tree (also commonly known as basswood or lime tree, despite being unrelated to the fruit bearing bush of the same name) falls within the Tilia genus, a group of around 30 species of trees native to the Northern hemisphere. Other members of the genus include the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), phalsa (Grewia subinaequalis), durian (Durio spp.), and Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius.) Linden trees are hermaphroditic, meaning their perfect flowers carry both male and female parts that require pollination from insects. Once pollinated, the flowers will develop into oval, slightly ribbed fruits with a pointed tip. The fruits grow in clusters of 2,3 or 4, and are fitted with a wing to facilitate their spread.
Handsome, well groomed, and bountiful, the linden tree is characterized by its abundance of tiny, cream to yellow clusters of flowers and large, asymmetrical, heart-shaped leaves with pointed tips and an average diameter of around 6 to 20 centimeters (2 1⁄4 to 7 3⁄4 in). As young saplings, linden trees have a slender, pyramidal shape and a smooth, grey bark. As they age, they develop a broad crown that is often utilized for its ability to offer shade and shelter, and a grey to brown bark with shallow fissures. Although a slow grower, certain sub-species of the linden tree can achieve a majestic final height of 130 feet– perhaps one of the reasons it tends to be favored in public areas that can accommodate its full size, rather than in private residences. In summer, the linden tree’s broad canopy provides dappled shade, allowing just enough sunlight for flowers and shade grasses to flourish on the ground below. In autumn, the tree’s leaves take on a beautiful golden hue before eventually dropping off. Despite being easy to grow in the right soil conditions, linden trees are exceptionally difficult to propagate from seed, and are notoriously vulnerable to insect attack. Aphids in particular are known to be drawn to the linden’s ready supply of rich sap. Linden trees typically have a lifespan of a few hundred years, but there are several examples of specimens across the world that are believed to be more than a thousand years old.
The woodlands of Europe include many native linden trees, some of which have reached some pretty impressive ages. Some of the oldest examples of the species can be found in the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucester, which plays home to a coppice of lindens estimated to be around 2000 years old. Throughout history, lindens have been used to grace the gardens of the rich and famous of the day; visitors to the Imperial Castle of Nuremburg should be sure to take in the 1000 year old linden planted by the Empress Cunigunde, wife of Henry II of Germany, while Swiss holidaymakers should plan a quick detour to Naters to take in the Alte Linde tree, which is believed to have been planted prior to 1155.
Uses of the Linden Tree
- Wood –Linden trees are characterized for their soft, easy- to- work wood. In the past, it was used extensively by Germanic tribes for making shields, while in the Middle ages, it was the material of choice for sculpting and puppet and marionette carving. Today, it’s widely used for model building, sculpting and carving. Its excellent acoustic properties make it a popular choice for instrument makers, with many manufactures of electric guitars, bass and wind instruments utilizing the material in their make. In addition to its ability to lend an enhanced acoustic to instruments, linden wood is the number one material of choice for window blinds and shutters.
- Bark – As we’ve already learned, an alternative name for the linden tree is basswood, a name that originates from the tough inner bark (or bast) of the tree trunk. Once soaked, the bark turns into a strong, durable fiber. Historically, the fibers have been used by the Ainu people of Japan to make clothing. Fibers have also been found during archaeological digs in Britain, suggesting bronze age people utilized it for much the same purpose.
- Honey – The nectar-producing flowers of the linden tree are known for producing a richly flavored, mono-floral honey that, as Keeping Bee notes, is considered one of the most valuable and in demand varieties available.
- Herbalism – As Tree Pictures Online notes, lindens are characterized by their bountiful supply of small, fragrant flowers. In herbal medicine, the flowers have traditionally been used as a tea (known as limeflower tea) that is noted for its sweet, aromatic qualities and plentiful supply of flavonoids (a type of antioxidant). The tea, which has known diuretic (increases urine production), sedative and antispasmodic (reduces muscles spasms) properties, is commonly used in herbalism as a remedy for colds, coughs, infections, inflammation, headaches (including migraine) and high blood pressure. As The Herbal Academy notes, there is also some evidence to suggest the leaves of the linden tree have hepatoprotective constituents (i.e. the ability to protect the liver from damage). As an additional benefit, the flowers are a rich source of tannins, a useful astringent.
Aside from the flowers, herbalists have also found the linden tree useful for its wood: after burning, the resulting charcoal can either be consumed as a way of treating intestinal distress, or applied topically to treat ulcers and cellulitis.
The Linden tree comes in several varieties. Those most commonly seen in North America are:-
- Little- Leaf Linden (Tilia cordata). The Little- Leaf Linden is a medium-large tree with a symmetrical canopy with attractive ornamental leaves. Easy- to- care for and with some of the lowest maintenance requirements of all the varieties, the Little- Leaf Linden requires little to no pruning to maintain its handsome form. In summer, expect to see scores of bees enjoying the nectar of its heavy clusters of fragrant yellow flowers. In autumn, the flowers are replaced by attractive clusters of nutlets.
- American Linden (T. americana). With its wide canopy and large stature, the American Linden (sometimes referred to as basswood, white basswood, beetree linden or bee-tree) is most typically seen in large public areas than in private spaces. Its leaves tend to be coarser than those of the Little Leaf Linden, but it makes up for this with its plethora of beautifully perfumed flowers, the nectar from which makes for a truly delectable honey. Unfortunately, the American Linden is one of the most pest-ridden of all the varieties. Unless care is taken, the tree can often be completely defoliated by leaf-munching insects by the end of summer (although take heart- the leaves will return the following spring). Those trees that survive the summer pests will reward their careful owners with a canopy of beautiful, golden yellow leaves come autumn.
- European linden (T. europaea). The European Linden is a striking, medium- large tree with a loose, pyramid shaped canopy. The average tree will top out at around 70 feet. While easy to maintain, the variety can occasionally grow extra trunks that require early pruning.
Less Common Varieties
- Carolina Basswood (Tilia caroliniana).The Carolina Basswood is characterized by its grey bark and abundant, fragrant white flowers. The variety is native to North America and will grow from anything between 40-100 feet tall. Other common names for this variety include Florida basswood, Carolina linden, Florida linden and beetree.
- Crimean Linden (Tilia x euchlora). The Crimean Linden is a hybrid variety, believed to come from theTilia cordataand Tilia dasystyla. The Crimean variety is one of the most robust varieties available and tends to be relatively resistant to insect attack. The species, which tops out at around 4-60 feet tall, is also known by the names Caucasian linden and Caucasian lime.
- Henry’s Lime (Tilia henryana).Named for the botanist to discover the species, Augustine Henry, the Henry’s Lime is a slow growing variety native to China. Maximum height is typically 50 foot tall.
- Large- Leaved Linden (Tilia platyphyllos Scop). As its name suggest,s the large- leaved linden is characterized by large, broad leaves which can grow up to 5” in length. The species has a moderate growth rate, and will typically grow to around 60-80 feet tall. As noted by Canadian Tree Tours, the large-leaved linden has greyish, round fruits that hang from strap-like bracts. Other common names for the species include large-leaved lime, largeleaf linden and broad-leaved lime.
- Silver Linden (Tilia tomentosa).The silver linden, which sometimes goes by the name silver lime, is characterized by the white hairs of its leaves, which gives a shimmering, silver tint to its color. This sturdy variety tops out at around 40-70 feet tall and is found throughout Europe and Asia.
- White Basswood (Tilia heterophylla). Like the silver linden, this hybrid variety is known for the white hairs that line the back of its leaves. Most commonly found in the eastern parts of the United States, the white basswood is one of the larger subspecies of linden, topping out at around 50-80 feet tall.
- Weeping Silver Linden (Tilia petiolaris).As one of the tallest of the linden varieties with a maximum height of 100 feet, the weeping silver linden is noted for is dropping canopy and the white hairs that coat the underside of its leaves, given a silver hue. Found throughout Europe and Asia, the weeping silver linden also goes by the names pendant silver linden, weeping silver lime and pendant white lime.
- Boulevard Linden (Tilia Americana ‘Boulevard’). A narrow, pyramidal variety introduced by Bailey Nurseries, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota.
- Dakota Linden (T. americana ‘Dakota’). A robust, pyramidal variety introduced by Ben Gilbertson, Kindred, North Dakota.
- Frontyard Linden (T. americana ‘Bailyard’). A broad, pyramidal, symmetrical tree introduced by Bailey Nurseries, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota.
- Pyramidal Linden (T. americana ‘Fastigiata’). A narrow, upright cultivar.
- Redmond Linden (T. americana ‘Redmond’). A tall, pyramidal form. Believed to have originated from the large-leaf linden (T. platyphyllos) and little-leaf linden (T. cordata) hybrid.
- Mongolian Linden (T. mongolica)
Care Requirements for Linden Trees
- Planting – As recommended by Gardening Know How, the best time of year to plant a linden tree is in autumn (unless you chose to plant a container grown tree, which can be done at any point). Lindens benefit from at least a little direct sunlight, so choose areas with either full sun or partial shade over fully shaded locations. If possible, choose an area with a neutral to alkaline PH level soil (although slightly acidic soils will do at a push). Ideally, the soil should be moist and with good drainage. Once you’ve selected the ideal spot, you can start planting. Make sure to place the tree in the planting hole so the soil line of the tree is on level with the surrounding ground. Backfill around the roots, making sure to press the soil down every now and again to stop air pockets developing. Once planted, give the tree a good soaking.
- Mulch – Both after planting and at regular intervals throughout the year, mulch around the linden tree with a natural matter such as bark, pine needles or leaves. Mulching serves multiple benefits, including preventing weeds, allowing the soil to retain moisture, mitigating against any extreme changes in temperature, and providing vital nutrients. Avoid adding mulch around the trunk, which can cause rot.
- Water – Newly planted trees should be well- watered once or twice a week for the first few months (unless you planted during a particularly rainy season). The soil should be moist, but not water-logged. Once the tree matures, you won’t need to water other than in lengthy dry spells.
- Fertilize – As Gardening Know How advises, newly planted trees need to be fertilized the following spring. Add around 2 inches of compost or around 1 inch of manure to an area of approximately twice the size of the canopy. For mature trees, only fertilize if the tree shows signs of stunted growth, or if the leaves fail to grow properly. As lindens are sensitive to herbicides, avoid using weed killer around its the root zone.