American Basswood (Tilia) flower buds

Fragrant Flowers: American Basswood Tree (Tilia)

American Basswood

In the next few weeks, as you wander through the park or woods, you may catch the whiff of a honey scent that you can’t identify. It is fragrant, but not sickly sweet. The scent isn’t as heady as honeysuckle, nor as exotic as jasmine. The smell is like a wild rose. You look around, but don’t see anything blooming. Hint: look up.

American basswood trees have straight trunks and branch out near the top.
mature American basswood

If you are looking at large, heart shaped, dark green leaves, chances are good that you’ve found an American basswood tree. The flowers are hardly noticeable, but, oh, that scent! These North American natives are related to European and Asian linden trees.

 

American basswood tree leaves are asymmetrical heart shaped

The ornamental lindens are often planted on tree lawns, and their fragrance is enjoyed morning and evening by humans and insects. You can actually hear the buzzing as you pass a linden in bloom.

bee searching for nectar on American basswood tree flower
photo credit: Kristine Paulus

Flower Scents

The flowers of these species are small and cream-colored. They aren’t as noticeable as the pea shaped seeds that follow.

American basswood tree flowers hang like bells from their stems.
photo credit: Virens

The name “basswood” is derived from the original name “Bastwood” because native Americans used the inner fibrous bark (or “bast”) of the tree to make ropes and cords.

Whether you call it linden, or basswood, it is a lovely tree to cultivate. The ornamental varieties have a symmetrical, pyramid shape, and look as though they’ve been trimmed. The North American native is not so regular in shape, but the foliage is still attractive.

Places to Go

Plan its placement carefully. The nectar attracts not only bees and wasps, but aphids and ants. That means that the sticky honeydew will fall all around the tree. This is definitely not something to plant around your driveway or close to windows.

leaves with dangling seeds and flowers

So, having located a spot 50 feet from the west edge of your patio or deck, enjoy the late afternoon fragrance as it wafts on the gentle, westerly summer breeze. Lemonade in hand, book in lap, feet up on the stool; you’ve found your joy today!

basswood tree trunk grows tall and straight

 

 

 

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