Add Shade with American Basswood

American basswood gives shade to your yard and the fragrant flowers provide forage for pollinators.

American basswood (Tilia americana) is a common deciduous tree in midwestern and eastern U.S. forests. This large native tree is one of the latest trees to flower in the forest, relying entirely upon insects to pollinate the flowers. Most deciduous canopy trees are wind-pollinated, flowering in early spring before the leaves emerge to ensure that their pollen is transported by wind. To attract pollinators, American basswood’s flowers are fragrant and offer both pollen and nectar to visiting insects. Large, showy cream-colored bracts persist on the tree as the flowers turn to fruit in late summer and provide interest well into fall.

Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

Botanical name: Tilia americana

Common names: American basswood, American linden

Origin: Native to North America, from eastern North Dakota east to Maine in the north and from Texas east to Florida in the south; in Canada it occurs from southern Manitoba eastward to New Brunswick

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 42 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 2 to 11)

Typical plant communities: Deciduous woodland canopies and woodland edges

Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

Developing seeds with the showy cream-colored bracts attached. These bracts act as a visual attractant for pollinators when the tree is in bloom.

Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

American basswood buds are bright red in winter when dormant.

Water requirement: Little water needed once established; prefers loam soils with a moderate amount of moisture

Light requirement: Partial sun to full sun

Mature size: 80 to 120 feet tall and 30 to 40 feet wide

Benefits and tolerances: Tolerates most soil types except for sand and heavy clay.

Seasonal interest: Creamy white flowers open in late June or July and hang downward from the branches in clusters.

When to plant: Spring or fall; potted plants are available from most native-plant nurseries in areas where it occurs

Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

Distinguishing traits. American basswood can have a single trunk or multiple trunks. When the main trunk is in decline in the wild, new lateral trunks will be produced. Nursery-grown stock almost always has a single trunk.

How to use it. American basswood can be used as a stand-alone shade tree, planted along the edge of a woodland or incorporated into a woodland opening in partial sun. It also is suitable as a residential street tree.

Planting notes. American basswood is a fairly fast-growing tree, which makes it suitable to use as a shade tree or as screening along the edge of a woodland.

Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

An American basswood seedling — note the unusually shaped first leaves.

Pollinator notes. American basswood flowers are fragrant and showy and attract a number of different flower-visiting insects, including beetles, flies, wasps, moths and bees. After opening, they offer pollen for a short period of time. Following this initial phase of the flower development, the flowers become receptive to pollen and, at the same time, increase nectar production.

They receive many visits in the evening from nocturnal moths, because nectar production often peaks in the late afternoon, providing an abundant supply in the evening hours.

This article was originally published on
For related posts see:
Keep Plants in a Sunroom for Ideal Growing Conditions
Buying a Potted Version? Pick Up a Plant Stand Too
How to Keep Your Tree Healthy

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