What Is a Linden Tree?
A linden alternatively refers to the basswood in the United States and to the lime tree in Britain. The linden belongs to the Tilia species, and it grows 50 to 100 feet high. It makes an ideal shade tree with an attractive form and dark green foliage. The linden figures prominently in folklore and history. Myths suggest green dryads, or tree spirits were wedded to lindens. The Romans believed the linden was an image of love and fidelity, according to the Teachers College at Columbia University’s "City Naturalist" series.
The linden served as a sacred tree from pre-Christian to modern times. The linden symbolized Freya, mistress of the earth, and Frigga, the mother goddess, to early Germanic and Norse tribes. Christian Bulgarian people built shrines near lindens. The French planted lindens to signify the religious freedom Henry IV gave to French Protestants with the Edict of Nantes in 1578. In 18th and 19th century Europe, a village linden often marked a central meeting place for celebrations and the local court of law, according to Fred Hageneder’s "The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore."
The linden’s environmental and practical benefits go far beyond its significance as a landscape planting. The tree makes a natural habitat for cavity dwelling birds. The flower heads provide a source of nectar for hummingbirds and bees; the resulting basswood honey is a valuable byproduct. Historically, the flowers were thought to relieve anxiety-related ailments, and so were steeped in water to make nerve-soothing teas. Today, linden serves as an ingredient in cold and cough remedies. The wood yields light, soft lumber that is suitable for arts and crafts and utensils.
The linden develops many shapes and habits, but all varieties possess similar bark, leaf and fruit characteristics. The trunk looks like a pillar with stout and smooth twigs that bear abundant foliage in summer. The linden leaf is heart-shaped and alternate, which means each one grows in a spiral along the shoot. The pea-sized fruit attaches to a yellowish bract, a modified leaf that protects the flower head. The American linden features a petal-like scale among its stamens that European varieties lack.
The American linden makes an ideal landscape planting due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of soils and pH levels, rapid growth and open crown. Until recently, the American variety was one of the most widely planted street trees, according to the Arbor Day Organization. The littleleaf linden develops fragrant, bright, yellow flowers and the small, dark green leaves turn dark yellow in autumn. The formal greenspire variety features a straight trunk, a dense pyramidal shape and a broad crown, while the Redmond provides winter interest when the current year’s foliage turns a reddish color in cold weather.
Lindens attract pests and exhibit sensitivity to chemicals. Aphids and cottony maple scale infest the tree. The tiny bugs do not cause damage, but they create a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts ants and wasps. The honeydew facilitates the growth of a dark grey sooty fungus that makes the tree look unsightly. Mites and excessive or inadequate water create distorted foliage. The linden is sensitive to herbicides and other chemical controls. The Colorado State University Extension says gardeners should avoid herbicide applications near the tree root zone, which is a radius of 2 1/2 times the height of the tree.
- Teachers College of Columbia: City Naturalist-Basswood
- "The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore"; Fred Hageneder; 2005
- Arbor Day Foundation: Linden, Littleleaf
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Linden