The three North American Trees commonly known as Linden trees are the American basswood, the littleleaf linden, and the silver linden. These small to medium sized trees can be identified by common characteristics in the flowers, fruit and leaves.
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Each of the three types of linden trees have small, pale, yellow flowers that appear in the late spring to early summer. The flowers grow in clusters of seven to ten, and a leafy wing appears above each cluster. The flowers of the silver linden are fragrant, while the flowers on the American basswood and littleleaf linden are not.
As the flowers fall from the tree, they are replaced with small round fruit in early fall. The fruit hang in clusters, again of seven to ten. The leafy wing will still be present, but change colors with the season. The fruit, which is fuzzy and gray-ish brown in color, is described as a nutlett. This fruit ripens in late fall.
The green leaves of all three linden trees are simple and alternate. This means that you will see one leaf per twig and the twigs alternate evenly from side to side of the tree branch. The edges of the leaves are serarated, meaning that they appear to be lined with tiny tooth-like forms. The leaves are a paler green on the underside of the American basswood and littleleaf linden, while the silver linden has a silverish quality to the underside of its leaves.
The American basswood has the largest leaves of the three types—each is five to six inches long. The silver linden's leaves measure two to five inches in length, while the littleleaf linden's leaves are between two and four inches long.