Sweet-scented shade for a summer’s day
This month, Awbury Arboretum brings us a tall, cool classic with heart-shaped leaves and flat, deeply-furrowed bark. The American Linden tree (Tilia americana) aka Basswood, aka the Bee Tree goes by many names, as this fascinating species has a long leafy history, and a storied reputation.
It’s ancient! Fossil records indicate Linden trees been growing in this hemisphere for over 55 million years. Indigenous peoples have long valued its strong, flexible wood for practical and ritual uses. During the American Revolution, the Linden tree became a symbol of freedom and justice – many communities would often designate a particular Linden as their “Liberty Tree” where people would gather for meetings and patriotic celebrations.
These days, we appreciate the Linden for its broad, welcoming canopy in city parks and greenspaces. Though happiest growing along wooded creek beds, this tree can thrive in urban environments where it gives shade, improves air quality, and provides food and shelter for local wildlife. Pollinators, especially, love it – more than 60 different kinds are known to enjoy the nectar of its blossoms. The creamy yellow flowers bloom in mid-summer, filling the air with a bright floral scent, with notes of green and honey (similar to jasmine).
Honey made from Linden tree pollen is prized for its unique flavor, often described as floral with complex, herbal undertones and a subtle yet distinctive sweetness. Linden-flower tea is said to strengthen the immune system, relieve cold and flu symptoms and encourage a good night’s sleep. When the flowers drop, a small nutlike berry forms that provides sustenance for a variety of birds and small mammals.
Linden trees are long-lived, as well – up to hundreds of years — supporting generations of cavity-nesting critters like wood ducks, woodpeckers, squirrels, chipmunks, etc plus a wealth of beneficial bugs and insects, not to mention otherworldly beings. According to Native American folklore, nature spirits dwell in the Linden’s branches; indeed, when you hear the sound of its leaves rustling overhead in a summer breeze, it sounds eerily like whispering.
Among some Appalachian communities, the Linden is known as the “tree of dreams.” It’s believed that sleeping in its shade will bring vivid and prophetic dreams. People seeking guidance or insights will purposefully spend a night under a Linden tree, hoping for wisdom from Beyond. Other cultures use the tree as a supernatural telephone, where people will gather to share their hopes and wishes for the whispering leaves to carry their messages to the divine.
Why not give it a try? There’s a lovely Linden tree in a picnic grove at Awbury Arboretum – click over to Awbury’s tree page for the exact location. For another great example, check out Laurel Hill Cemetery (tag 475) for the largest specimen in the state!
Even better, consider growing your own for maximum mystical access. Fun Fact: this is one of the approved street trees for PHS’s Tree Tenders program. Find out how you can score a free yard tree and/or participate in beautifying your block with natural greenery at phsonline.org.
Meanwhile, let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty, history, vitality, and lore of this majestic green giant in our local landscape.
🌳 Five Fast Linden Facts 🌳
1. The wood of the American Linden tree is lightweight, soft, and easy to work with. It has been used for making a variety of products, including model building, sculpting, and instrument making, especially for electric guitars and wind instruments, thanks to its excellent acoustic properties.
3. The tree’s edible leaves have been used for livestock and human consumption and the fibrous, pliable inner bark (bast) was a significant source of fiber for ropes, cords, mats and nets used by Native Americans and early European settlers.
4. American linden was cultivated in North America as early as 1752.
5. The Haudenosaunee carved ceremonial masks on living trees, then cut them off and hollowed out the backs. These “False Face” masks were used in healing rituals that invoke the spirit of an ancient hunch-backed healing man called “Old Broken Nose.”
Learn more from author and expert Dan Sardaro’s excellent blog with a whole calendar of special “tree-mendous” events throughout the year! Get up close and personal with all the year’s trees at Awbury, where remarkable specimens abound. All welcome, free to visit.
Dan is a novice birder and author of Awbury’s 2022 “Year of Birds” series, 2018 series on Pollinators, “From Wasps to Wind” and 2019’s series on natural fibers. (He is also a former Awbury Arboretum intern.) Read last month’s article here.
The Arboretum’s beautiful grounds are open FREE to the public from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. Maps available for self-guided tours at the main office, located in the Francis Cope House (Tues – Thurs, 10AM – 4PM or by appointment). Dogs on leash welcome — except not in the garden beds, please. Also available as a unique event venue. Learn more at awbury.org; follow on Facebook and Instagram.