Tilia americana
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American Basswood

  Physical Information
A mature American basswood is a large and stately tree reaching 120-140 feet and 4 to 4.5 feet dbh when growing in suitable sites. Each tree is supported by a complex of strong lateral roots which develop from a single stout root during early development.  The crown, composed of many relatively smaller and often drooping  branches, can vary from
The very characteristic smooth simple leaves are more or less heart-shaped, broadly ovate, long pointed at the tips, and attached to the branch by a long petiole. The leaves are further characterized as palmately veined with five main veins, arranged alternately in two rows, and easily recognized by large and pointed teeth which are often irregular in size. The leaves have usually shiny dark green upper surface while light green to yellow and hairless beneath. American basswood has leaves asymmetrical at the base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basswood leaves, Wayne county, MI
Judy Kelly

The bark is often dark and shallowly grooved, while smooth and grayish on the upper parts. It usually becomes furrowed into narrow scaly ridges and is characterized by its intertwined fibers that make the inner bark tough and leathery.

The branches, growing densely and often drooping, are

Basswood tillers, Colonial Point wooods, May 00
Judy Kelly

Basswood seedling, Colonial Point Woods, May 2000
Judy Kelly

The five-parted flowers are very characteristic by their fragrance that strongly attracts many pollinators, mostly bees. There are several flowers on each cyme and can reach about half an inch. The pale yellow to yellow flowers are blooming in late spring and early summer in drooping clusters attached  to a branch by a long stalk.
The round pea-like fruits of American basswood are hard, almost nutlike, containing 1-2 seeds. The seeds are produced in good crops almost every year. The seeds are dropped in late fall, winter, and early spring. Although they are not dropped very far from the parent tree, it is likely that small rodents (squirrels, chipmunks) increase the seeding distances and distribution.                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basswood leaves & fruits, Wayne county,MI
Judy Kelly

Basswood fruits, Hines Drive, Wayne County, MI
Judy Kelly

  Horticultural Information

American basswood produces good seed crops almost every year and the seed-bearing age can exceed 100 years in the healthy trees. The seeds can be dropped anytime during late fall, winter, or early spring season, and can be distributed by winds or small rodents. In some cases, a seed can sustain dormant for as long as four years before it germinates.  The seeds geminate best in mineral soil; however, it has been reported to be fairly common on sandy loams, loams, silt loams with clay subsoil, and even sand dunes along Lake Michigan.

During the early part of development, the young basswoodseedlings develop a single stout root, which is soon supplemented by many laterals in order to provide a strong support for the young tree. The trees growth varies with the different competitors and climates; it can grow 6 inches in the first 2 - 3 years of life in central Wisconsin, while 12 - 18 inches per year in the southern parts of the state. Basswood is quite frequent and grows successfully in the glaciated regions on Ohio.

American basswood has an exceptional ability to reproduce by stump sprouts. Unfortunately, these sprout stems lose vigor early and can become defective and partially rotten. Another reason for the losses of the first-year seedlings can be high due to animal, especially rabbit, cropping. After the first three years, according to one study, only about 28 % of the young plants survive the competition and some principle enemies - such as wood rooting fungi, molds, and insects, with the greatest losses reported the first year.

The individuals that were able to overcome the challenges of developing phase mature, and in favorable sites can reach up to 120 to 140 feet; even though the average height is somewhat lover, 65 to 100 feet with 3 feet in diameter, average weight 26 pounds per cubic foot, and specific gravity 0.32.  It can take approximately 150 years for the tree to reach its maximum height. American basswood has been classified as quite tolerant but it requires light at the same time, especially young trees.

 

  Distribution

American basswood is a tree common to northern range. It is especially abundant toward the northwest region dominating the Maple - Basswood forests and is common in the glaciated areas of Ohio. It grows successfully on sandy dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan.

American basswood is the northernmost basswood species. Its natural range extends from west, New Brunswick to southern Manitoba, and south through eastern North Dakota to eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma. In North Dakota, the extremes of minimum temperature can reach -51 degrees Fahrenheit and annual precipitation is ranging from 18 inches. The trees natural habitats include parts of Virginia, North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Arkansas; in North Carolina the temperature can fall down to -6 degrees and the annual precipitation can reach 60 inches.

American basswood is most abundant in two forest types; Sugar maple-Basswood, and Northern red oak - Basswood - White ash type; although, it can grow fairly well in other types as well. The recorded pH of soils varies between 5.0 and 7.5 in Minnesota, while ranging 4.5 to 6.0 in Wisconsin. American basswood can be found at elevations as high as 3200 feet in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and even up to 5000 feet in the southern Appalachian region when growing in protected valleys or adjacent lower slopes.

 

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  Economic Uses

Basswood, also called whitewood, is not one of the strongest types; however, it is a favorite among woodcarvers for its fine even texture and straight grain.  Although basswood is never used where strength is required, the soft wood is especially popular for making food boxes, furniture, pulpwood, crating, excelsior, and piano keys. Because of its odorless qualities, it can also be used to make food containers or woodenware. Many carvers favor basswood over other types claiming its ideal stability and precision working. The inner bark of basswood is characterized by its intertwined fibers which make it tough and leathery. Not very long ago, it was those qualities, that turned the bark into mats, nets, ropes, and even shoes.

Among other uses, basswood is well suitable for making beehive frames, pattern making, millwork such as blinds, moldings, sashes, doors. In the middle ages, a related species of basswood was called "a holly wood" because it was so often used for carving religious figures. Basswood is not only practical for its wood qualities and aesethics, it is also very often used to decorate our yards, parks, and avenues.

 

  Medicinal Uses

American basswood  is not used commonly for medical purposes; interestingly though, for its light weight, it is sometimes used for making artificial limbs.

Quite common and popular among those supporting herbal medicine, the very fragrant flowers of American basswood are collected at their peak during mid to late summer, dried, and used for making herbal tea, which has very pleasing affects and aroma for those seeking to ease the common cold symptoms.

Basswood is also recognized as a bee-tree by many people. As the yellowish flowers start blooming and richly producing very sweet and scentfull nectar, the trees become alive with bees. Basswood honey has an exceptionally fine flavor and is often recommended by those who ever tasted it as a herbal remedy.

 

  Origin of name
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  References
Audubon Society. 1980. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.  New York: Alfred A. Knoph, Inc.
Kappel-Smith, Diana. 1996. Curing the Farming Blues. Country Journal. 23(4):59-61.
Sandlin, Beverly. 1995. The Bee Tree. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. 79(2):47-49.
Harrap, George G. Glory of the Tree.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966.
Beckett, Kenneth.  The Love of Trees.  London: Octopus Books Limited, 1975.
Petrides, George A.  Field Guide to Eastern Trees.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.
  Other web sites of interest
In The Encyclopedia of Trees, Hugh Johnson quite loyally describes American basswood :

"Of all the biggest class of trees they are the most softly leafy, with fine-textured, heart-shaped leaves as big as the palm of a lady's hand. And in midsummer they sweeten the air most mellifluously with the scent of their flowers."

This page was written by Andrea Polasekova   for Bio 141, Botany, Fall 1998.
Biology Dept., Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn, MI

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