Tilia Americana

by John Brouwer

Basswood is a native Carolinian tree related to the European little leaf linden.

Lindens, known in England as lime trees, are widespread throughout southern Ontario as they are planted as street and landscaping trees. This illustrates the particular bias of the North American park and landscape movement in that European trees are chosen even when a local related native is available. The same influence has affected Beaver Creek in that we have lindens behind the playground but no basswood on the property.

Basswood is a large shade tree just under 100 feet. It is characterized by large heart-shaped leaves and flowers which hang on ribbon-shaped brackets. Some tree nurseries are finally offering basswood and in Waterloo one occasionally sees as young basswood planted as a replacement street tree.

Basswood flowers, although very small, exude a nectar which is sought by bees. A flowering tree can be full of bees for three weeks in early summer. Hence a common name for basswood is "bee tree". Basswood honey can be identified separately as bees are attracted to basswood flowers to the exclusion of other nectar sources.

Local Indians used the long fibers in basswood bark to make rope, nets, and cloth. The bark is soaked in water for a month after which the fibers can be extracted. Basswood is used for carving by most of the local tribes.

Pioneers used basswood for carving, cooperage, and boxes, especially food boxes as the wood does not impart a taint to food products. Ship figureheads were carved from basswood. The flowers, leaves and wood (as charcoal) were and are still used for medicinal purposes.

Today basswood is used for making musical instruments. It is used in guitars, drums, and the sounding boards in pianos. It continues to be a popular carving wood.

And, in addition to all these uses, in the forest basswood's big, soft, papery leaves are known as the woodman's friend.

December 2008