The American basswood tree, also known as the linden tree, has graced many an urban and suburban landscape. Valued for their beauty, shade and delicious fragrance, basswood trees can be found in abundance in the eastern half of North America. They are deciduous trees and are nicknamed "the bee tree" because bees use the nectar of the flowers to make honey.
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According to naturalist Leslie Day of the Columbia Teachers College, basswood or linden trees played a role in Greek and Roman mythology. Day says the tree spirits of Greek myths were supposedly wedded to linden trees. In Roman mythology the tree was used as a symbol of love and fidelity.
The Native Americans also valued the basswood tree. According to Wellesley College instructors Allaire Diamond and Jiasuey Hsu, Native Americans used the tree's fibrous inner bark to make rope.
The basswood or linden tree varies in size depending upon the variety. Larger varieties can reach a height of 130 feet at maturity. It has a rounded crown and a trunk that may measure up to 3 feet in diameter. The bark is ridged and furrowed in an "S" shape, and the flower clusters have a delicious scent, reminiscent of honey. Basswood tree have heart-shaped leaves. Older trees are often hollow in the middle and provide a comfortable home for wildlife such as squirrels and birds.
Basswood trees are often planted for shade or landscape purposes. In urban settings, they frequently are planted along boulevards. Their large size makes them a popular choice for open areas in park settings. In the Dakotas, the trees are used as windbreaks on farms and homesteads. The wood is used for lumber and also by wood carvers who value the even grain and color. The flowers can be used to make honey.
Basswood trees will thrive on rich, well-drained loam or clay soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. A full sun placement is best, but basswoods will tolerate partial shade. They are an appropriate choice for flood plains. They are cold hardy to USDA zone 2.
Fortunately, pests and diseases pose little serious threat to basswood trees. Insects such as the linden borer, Japanese beetle and basswood leaf miner may attack the bark but don't cause serious damage. Likewise, the leaves may get black mold or leaf spot but these typically do not damage the overall health of the tree.