American Basswood: Description and Site Conditions

This popular landscaping tree grows best in moist soil in Zones 3-8.

Solitary linden
anmbph / Getty Images

The American basswood (Tilia americana), also known as American linden, is a large native North American tree that can grow more than 80 feet tall (some have been recorded to grow as tall as 135 feet). This tree has a majestic oval canopy mounted on a tall, straight trunk. Mid-summer brings abundant clusters of aromatic, yellow blooms, which attract bees who make prized honey.

Learn more about this linden species, including its specific range, cultivars, pests, and pruning recommendations.

Taxonomy and Native Range

The American basswood is a member of the Tiliaceae family. It also goes by the name of American linden or the bee tree.

Basswood trees grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8 and are found in various regions throughout the northeastern and central United States, as well as parts of southern Canada. These trees are often used as hedges but only in large tree lawns. Because they are large and grow rapidly, American basswood trees require plenty of space.

Uses of American Basswood

This tree is an excellent choice for landscaping; it has limited tolerance to urban conditions depending on the cultivar. It is an ideal shade tree and can be used on residential streets.

American basswood is also an important timber tree, especially in the Great Lakes States. It is the northernmost basswood species.

Basswood flowers produce an abundance of nectar from which choice honey is made. In fact, in some parts of its range basswood is known as the bee tree. Throughout the eastern United States, basswood is frequently planted along city streets.

American Basswood Flowers

Virens (Latin for greening) /Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Cultivars of American Basswood

There are several great cultivars of American basswood, including Redmond, Fastigiata, and Legend.

The cultivar Redmond grows 75 feet tall, has a beautiful pyramidal shape, and is drought-tolerant. The Fastigiata cultivar is more narrow in shape with fragrant yellow flowers. The cultivar Legend is a hearty tree that is resistant to leaf rust. Its shape is pyramidal, growing with a single, straight trunk, and with upright, well-spaced branches. All of these cultivars are great as specimens for large lawns and along private drives and public streets.

Leaf Details

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: serrate
Leaf shape: cordate; ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: not showy

Best Site Conditions for American Basswood

If you are interested in including an American basswood tree in your landscape, keep in mind that a native American basswood grows best on moist, fertile soils that are acidic or slightly alkaline. It is often found growing along creeks and streams but will tolerate short periods of drought.

The tree likes to grow in full sun or partial shade and is more shade-tolerant than oaks and hickories. While the leaves may show some wilting and scorching after a long dry season, the tree is expected to recover the following year.

Common Pests and Diseases

Aphids are notorious pests on basswood, producing a sticky substance called "honeydew" which then introduces a dark sooty mold that will cover objects under the tree including parked vehicles and lawn furniture. Typically, aphids will not kill a healthy tree. Other common attacking insects include bark borers, walnut lace bug, Basswood leaf miner, scales and Linden mite.

Leaf rust is a major defoliator of basswood but some cultivars are resistant. Other diseases that infect basswood are Anthracnose, canker, leaf spots, powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt.

Pruning Tips for American Basswood

American linden trees grow to be very large and therefore demand space to develop properly. Naturally occurring trees need no pruning but branches on landscape specimens should be spaced by pruning along the trunk to allow for development to maturity.

Removing branches with weak crotches and embedded bark is advised even though the wood is flexible and will not often break from the trunk. Plant basswood as a specimen or shade tree only on property where there is plenty of area available for root expansion. Remember to remove basal sprouts that are prone to grow off the base of the trunk.