Basswood is a beautiful and useful native tree with a great deal of functionality in the landscape. Its large leaves provide deep shade, but the true attraction is the heavily scented flowers in early to mid summer. Basswood is extremely floriferous and one of the best native trees to attract insect life. Butterflies and moths like this tree’s nectar so much that Basswood can actually help increase the population of pollinators in orchards or gardens. Excellent companions include tuliptree, magnolias, American beech, sugar maple, sourwood, black locust, honey locust, and white oak.
Uses of Basswood trees vary widely. The wood has been used in the construction of furniture, wooden utensils, and wagon building. It is also favored for the production of electric guitars. The inner bark of the tree is tough and fibrous, and was used by Native Americans and early settlers in the creation of ropes or as tinder for fire starting. The blossoms are rich in scent and nectar, and allow bees to produce a rich and preferred flavor of honey.
Basswood also has great medicinal value. The flowers, leaves, wood, and charcoal are used medicinally. Basswood is antioxidant, has mucilaginous chemicals which soothe and reduce inflammation and aid digestion, and contains astringent tannins. Basswood flowers were used by the Native Americans in the treatment of colds, coughing, fever, infections, inflammation, migraines, and high blood pressure. It also possesses sedative and antispasmodic properties and may be used to reduce anxiety. The young leaves and flowers are entirely edible and may be used in salads.
Large to medium deciduous tree with a domed crown and spreading branches. Bark is gray to light brown with deep narrow fissures. Leaves are simple, alternate, ovate to cordate, 10-15 cm long and wide, with coarsely serrated margins and long slender petioles. Fall color is lime green or yellow. Flowers occur in drooping clusters of 6-20 blossoms. They are small, fragrant, yellowish-white, and 10-14 mm in diameter. They occur in early to mid summer. Fruits are small, round, hard, dry, and cream-colored nutlets 8-10 mm in diameter.
30-80 feet tall and 30-50 feet wide
Large deciduous tree
Full sun to dense shade
Basswood grows best in partial sun and rich soils. It has a deep, spreading root system which is drought tolerant when established and should not need supplemental irrigation. Apply up to 4 inches of mulch in drier or less organically rich soils. Liming to a pH between 5.5 and 7.0 also helps the plant to obtain nutrients.
Ornamental Value: Basswood’s assets include the heavily scented flower clusters, the swarms of butterflies it attracts, and the dense shade it provides.
Basswood is useful as a shade tree, windbreak, row planting, or specimen. It is a good candidate for naturalization in woodlands as well. It may be planted near orchards or vegetable gardens because of the power of its flowers to attract a wide variety of pollinators.
Flowers of Basswood provide abundant nectar for insects and are a preferred honey production tree. The seeds are consumed by chipmunks, mice, and squirrels. Rabbits and voles eat the bark and can sometimes girdle juvenile specimens. The leaves serve as food for the larvae of the Red-Spotted Purple as well as the Mourning Cloak.
Native to eastern North America from Manitoba east to New Brunswick, southwest to Texas, and east to South Carolina. It favors bluffs, hammocks, coves, mixed woodlands, and old fields.
Green seed or scarified and stratified seed
Also known as American Linden,
Text by Kevin Tarner, Georgia Wildlife Federation