Plant Profile: Lovely Linden

Blooming now (or soon to be blooming) is an incredibly fragrant tree, some small in stature, some large, all beautiful. The genus Tilia, or Lindens, are native to both North America and Europe, and are excellent trees both for the home garden and the more urban property dweller. These plants are exceptionally hardy, tolerant of a wide range of soils (though prefer more neutral, non-acidic), and exhibit a nice natural form that requires little pruning. Some species are slow growers, and as such will take many years to provide good shade, but this quality makes them a good choice for small or compact spaces.

Our native Linden, Tilia americana, otherwise known as Basswood or Little Lime Tree, is an excellent species for a specimen shade tree in the landscape. Native to most of eastern North America, it can reach heights upwards of 50 feet tall by approximately 2/3 as wide, Basswood is a fairly quick-growing tree. Its flowers provide oodles of nectar and pollen for insects, and its seeds (lime shaped, giving explanation to its other common name) are an important food source for rodents. Its leaves are large, almost 6 inches across, and heart-shaped. I cannot attest to flavor or texture myself, but the foliage and flowers are both edible, though the tender young leaves are preferred. It is host to very few pests, though Japanese Beetles can create quite a ragged-looking tree as they skeletonize the foliage.

The more commonly seen Tilia cordata, the Littleleaf Linden, or Greenspire, is an excellent tree for smaller spaces, as it is rather slow growing and compact. Native to Europe and the British Isles, it is becoming increasingly less common, and is seen as an indicator of old-growth forests, dating back to the 1600s or before. In this country, it or a naturally-occurring hybrid (T. x europa, the Common Lime) is oftentimes used as a street tree. Both of these trees have a compact habit and a naturally rounded crown, making them ideal for city plantings.

The flowers, fruits and their bracts are one of the most interesting parts of the Tilia genus. The flowers are green to cream to pink, produced in clusters in mid-June. They have an incredibly heavy scent, and are very much visited by bees and other pollinators. The fruit is a dry, hard, nutlet, borne in clusters on long stems underneath a wing-like bract. The bract functions much the way the wing on a maple seed does, dropping the nutlets just far enough outside the canopy of the parent tree so they are not shaded as they begin to grow.

Fall color in Lindens is not spectacular; typically shades of yellow. The fruits are somewhat ornamental in late summer, but springtime and early summer is when these trees truly shine. Their bark is rather distinctive, a nice medium-gray color, with long, flat ridges running vertically. Branching structure is beautiful in a well-formed tree, with many large arms reaching skyward, arching slightly away from center.

Adding a Linden to your landscape will provide shade for you and an important source of food for a myriad of wildlife. They have been planted for centuries, and the oldest ones in the world are said to be hundreds if not a thousand years old before they fell. This longevity no doubt contributed to their being a symbol of lasting love to the ancient Greeks, for what better to spend eternity and afterlife as but a strong, noble tree?