The mighty Linden Tree is one of our finest native trees. It graces our forests from southern Canada to northern Florida and west to the Great Plains. It grows tall and broad its medium large leaves creating a deep cooling shade.
Our Linden tree, the American Linden, consists of two nearly identical species, Tilia americana and Tilia heterophylla. Americana is the northern strain and heterophylla is the southern strain. They are visually identical and are both used the same way.
Lindens are mostly found in forest areas in the wild. In the north they are in some areas a primary species. In the southern areas they are a relic of cooler times and are mostly found in deep valleys that are damp and shaded. The trees do fine in open lawns and grow broader rather than tall in such circumstances.
Lindens were once planted as street trees and provided shade along many a city street in many a town across the country. Many towns have a Linden Avenue.
These trees were valued for their fragrant flowers that open in early summer. The Linden tree flowers can be made into a soothing tea. These great trees turn a creamy white with brackets of flowers that are a favorite of honeybees and other pollinators. Honeybees find them to be a particularly good source of nectar. Two mature trees have enough flowers to equal an acre of sweet clover in nectar production. An acre of Linden trees planted as a savannah ( twelve or so to the acre ) can provide enough nectar to make 1500 pounds of honey. The flowers are available for two weeks and the flow is concentrated enough that beekeepers can extract nearly pure Linden honey where there are plenty of trees. Linden honey has a mildly minty flavor. It is the favored honey in Germany made from their Little Leaf Lindens.
The flowers are born beneath an attractive leaf like structure. The seeds that follow are unique in that they are neither nuts nor berries but, hard shelled seeds that hang on the tree until fall. The seeds are difficult to germinate and sometimes lay dormant in the soil for many years. Once the trees are growing they are easy to transplant and establish quickly in a lawn or landscape setting.
Linden trees are sometimes confused with Mulberry trees or even Redbud trees because they all have a similar leaf. The tree structure is quite different with both Mulberry and Redbud being much smaller trees. Both of them tend to be short and multi stemmed while the Linden tree tends to be tall and tree like.
Mighty Linden Trees are medium fast growers reaching maturity in 30 to 40 years. They begin to make their delightful flowers in 5 or 6 years. The tree is strong and flexible resisting both wind and ice. The bark of the Linden tree is light grey and lightly furrowed. It is sometimes drilled by a woodpecker called the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker who makes neat rows of shallow holes in the bark that make attractive places for insects to hide so he can come back later for a snack. The holes do no harm to the tree. They suffer from a few pests but none that seriously harm the tree. Being a native tree, many moths and butterflies feed their young on its leaves and our native songbirds in turn feast upon the caterpillars.
The trees have been a useful resource throughout the history of mankind. The leaves and bark are edible, the flowers used for tea. The bark of the Linden tree gave it its name. The inner bark, known as bast, was peeled and the stringy fibers used for rope. Linden is a valuable timber tree the wood is soft and easily worked with a subtle grain pattern that is perfect for uses where grain is not the focus of the project. It is a favorite wood for carvers, interior mouldings and cabinet work. Many of the great wood carvings of Europe were carved from Lime which is a common name for Linden there.
The Linden Tree has so much going for it, one must wonder why it is so seldom seen available? If you have room for a large tree, try a Linden. Encourage your city foresters to include this wonderful tree in their civic plantings.