Basswood is a synonym for the American linden tree (Tilia americana). While North Americans often call any tree of the genus Tilia a "basswood," Europeans call these same trees "lindens" or "lime trees." It is best to call only the American native species a basswood, but it has become a colloquial name loosely assigned to any tree known as a linden. Depending on species, these basswoods are best grown in USDA zones 3 through 8.
Native to the eastern half of the United States, the American basswood (Tilia americana) is usually not grown in gardens but admired growing in woodlands that are not managed. It grows 60 to 80 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide with large, heart-shaped leaves that are about the size of a bass fish. The green leaves turn golden yellow or yellow-green and tan in the fall. The fragrant flowers bloom in late spring and provide nectar and yield a deep amber-colored honey. The bark is smooth and on young twigs can be stripped off to make straps or rope.
Usually called littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata), this native of Europe has leaves that look just like those of the American basswood but are much smaller. Littleleaf linden grows 60 to 70 feet tall and 30 to 45 feet wide and attains a shape much more suited to landscapes as a lawn, shade or street tree, according to Michael Dirr of the University of Georgia and author of "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs." Cultivars of this tree species include "Chancellor," "Corinthian," "Glenleven," "June Bride" and "Greenspire."
This handsome tree is also from Europe and is more frequently called the bigleaf linden (Tilia platyphyllos). According to Dirr, the name is misleading, as this tree's leaves really aren't much larger than those of the littleleaf linden. In Europe, this species is widely used for creating impressive allees and pruned hedgerows. At maturity, the bigleaf linden grows 60 to 80 feet high and 20 to 40 feet wide. "Princes Street" and "Rubra" are cultivars that display more ornately red young twigs in the winter.
Silvery brown bark and leaves that are green but with silvery white undersides are the source for the common name of silver basswood, or more frequently, the silver linden (Tilia tomentosa). This massive tree grows 50 to 70 feet tall and 25 to 45 feet wide with a rounded, uniformly branched structure. It is native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. The "Sterling Silver" cultivar is an improved selection of the wild tree species, but develops a branch structure that is more "sculptured," according to Dirr. Other cultivars are "Green Mountain," "Petiolaris" and "Princeton."
This basswood (Tilia x euchlora) was created in 1860 from a genetic cross between Tilia cordata and Tilia dasystyla. Dirr says this attractive tree is less frequently used in landscapes in comparison to the littleleaf linden. Crimean linden has glossy green leaves with perfectly toothed edges. The tree retains its lowermost branches, eventually creating a beech or Christmas treelike shape 40 to 60 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. A popular cultivar in the United States of this hybrid tree is named "Redmond."