9 Differences Between Basswood And Linden Trees

Tilia trees (lindens) in bloom

If you’ve ever heard basswood tree and linden tree being used interchangeably, you’re not alone. These trees are commonly misunderstood as being the same tree, but this just isn’t true. But what exactly is the difference between basswood and linden trees?

The fundamental difference between basswood trees and linden trees is that basswood trees are a type of linden tree. When compared to other linden trees, basswood trees are different in several ways, including their growing zones, height at maturity, pests, uses, and growth rates.

Read on to discover all the differences between basswood and linden trees. We’ll clear up some of the confusion between these trees and talk about why their names are used interchangeably!

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Basswood And Linden Trees – What’s The Difference?

There are many differences between the American Basswood tree and your typical linden tree. But, it can get a bit confusing when we say ‘linden’ tree because ‘linden’ is a group of several species, basswood being one of them.

So, when we refer to linden trees in this article, we’re talking about the most common linden trees such as the little-leaf linden or Silver linden.

To add to the confusion, some linden trees are called lime trees, though they have no relation to the citrus lime tree!

Confused yet? Let’s clear up some of the confusion by discussing the key differences between basswood trees and linden trees.

Basswood Trees Are A Species Of Tree

We divide every living thing on planet earth into its own category based on what it is. This system of classification helps scientists identify the similarities between two organisms, as well as the differences.

For basswood trees and linden trees, this classification system helps us understand the fundamental difference between the two: basswood is a species of tree, while ‘linden’ refers to a genus.

A genus is a group of species. For example, both coyotes and wolves belong to the genus Canis. However, they separate into two different species after that: C. latrans and C. lupus, respectively.

In our basswood-linden debate, basswood trees are considered a species, while linden is considered a genus.

To summarize, all basswood trees are linden trees, but not all linden trees are basswood trees. To call a basswood tree a linden tree is technically correct, but you cannot call all linden trees basswood trees, as there are a lot of different linden tree species.

USDA Hardiness Zone

The hardiness zone refers to the absolute coldest temperature the tree will survive. Trees will typically be categorized in a range of zones, which indicate the optimal temperatures for that tree.

According to North Carolina State University, Basswood trees can survive in zones 2a through 9a. That is a very cold-hardy tree!

Zone 2a refers to trees able to survive down to -50℉. Your Basswood tree may not be thrilled with those temperatures, but it can survive through it and still bloom the following spring.

Other linden trees like the little-leaf linden and big-leaf linden can survive in hardiness zones 3a to 7a. Their range is a little less than the basswood, but they can still withstand some pretty chilly temperatures.

Hardiness zones are a valuable tool for those who wish to plant basswood trees (or any tree, for that matter!) in their yard. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map lets you know if the tree or plant you want will thrive in your region or not.

Height Of Linden Trees And Basswood Trees

Most linden trees grow pyramidal when they are younger. As they grow older, their shape becomes more rounded.

Linden trees are considered tall trees, often reaching heights of well over 80 feet. They are stately trees and provide yards with plenty of shade.

According to Iowa State University, basswood trees reach a maximum height of around 80 feet. By contrast, little-leaf lindens typically grow to 70 feet and European lindens reach around 60 feet. The silver linden is one of the smallest linden trees, reaching only 40 feet at full height.

Height at maturity is affected by growing conditions. There are, of course, exceptions where linden trees reach over 100 feet, but more often than not, they will not reach triple digits in height.

What Are Basswood And Linden Trees Used For?

A close-up of a carpenter cutting a block of basswood with a band saw

Trees provide us with a ton of raw materials. They can be used in lumber, cabinets, veneer, trim, and furniture. Trees also provide us with medicine, oxygen, windbreaks, and erosion prevention.

However, not all trees provide the same materials. Some are not suitable for lumber because the trunks are knotty or bent. Others may not be sturdy enough for furniture or make for a poor veneer.

Basswood trees are used for:

  • Lumber
  • Veneer
  • Wood carving
  • Pulpwood
  • Rope
  • Cord
  • Mats
  • Tea
  • Nectar
  • Honey
  • Olive oil substitute (seed oil)
  • Shade 
  • Windbreak
  • Wildlife attractant
  • Medicinal

The usefulness of the inner bark of a basswood tree is actually where it got its name. Basswood was derived from ‘bast’ wood, which referred to the bast fibers found in the inner bark. 

These fibers were used historically by Native Americans for rope and cord. According to the University of Kentucky, some tribes used to carve ceremonial masks out of the trees as well.

Besides its usefulness in wood products, basswood trees also provide food and shelter for wildlife. 

Their flowers provide nectar for bees and nectar-feeding birds. Older trees tend to be hollow, providing shelter for various little critters. Animals like squirrels and deer eat basswood seeds.

The honey obtained from the basswood flowers is used in teas and by itself. Basswood trees are also useful in parks and along streets to provide shade and windbreaks.

Many trees from the linden genus have the same uses such as providing nectar for bees. However, there are some differences between basswood tree uses and other linden tree uses.

For example, big-leaf linden trees are used in more delicate wood-making, such as musical instruments and cuckoo clocks. Silver leaf lindens do not have seeds that attract wildlife, but they attract butterflies with their flowers.

Linden trees, in general, are also useful to people metaphysically and supernaturally. According to an article in the Journal of Horticulture, Forestry and Biotechnology, some consider linden trees the ‘sacred’ tree.

These sacred trees are a symbol of prosperity, friendship, peace, love, altruism, and good luck, among others.

Leaf Identification

Linden tree and linden flowers with green leaves

Leaves can be a useful tool to help identify what kind of tree you are looking at. It’s best to identify a tree by its leaves in the spring or summer, as deciduous trees will lose their leaves in the fall and winter (you can learn more about how trees survive the winter here.)

All linden trees are deciduous and most of them have showy, golden-yellow leaves in the fall. Most linden tree leaves are described as heart-shaped, including basswood trees.

The big difference comes in the size of the leaves and the presence of hairs on the leaves. Most linden tree leaves are green, but some species can be differentiated by their color.

Let’s look at three of the most common linden trees and see how their leaves differ from a basswood tree.

Tree Species:Leaf Color:Leaf Size (Length):Hair on Leaf?:
Basswood TreeGreenGreater than 6 inchesYes
Big-leaf LindenGreen, Gray, White, Silver3-6 inchesYes
Littel-leaf LindenGreen3-6 inchesYes
Silver LindenGlossy Green1-3 inchesNo

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between basswood trees and other linden trees when it comes to leaves. However, there are a few subtle differences.

The silver linden tree has the most differentiated leaves in terms of color. The silverish color of their leaves give the tree its name.

Basswood trees have some of the biggest leaves, even when compared to the ‘big-leaf’ linden. Linden trees are easy to identify by their heart-shaped leaves but can be differentiated using their size, color, and the presence or absence of hair.

Basswood And Linden Tree Common Pests

Tree pests will vary from tree to tree. Pests are typically insects that either target the leaves or bore into the trunk to cause internal damage. Some pests, like aphids, can spread tree diseases from one tree to another.

According to North Carolina State University, there aren’t any major pests or diseases associated with the basswood tree. They are occasionally plagued with spider mites during dry, hot weather. They may also host boring insects and caterpillars.

Compared to other linden trees, basswoods are less susceptible than most when it comes to pests and tree afflictions like verticillium or powdery mildew.

Silver linden trees and bigleaf linden trees are also pretty resistant to pests. Silver lindens may have aphids, while bigleaf lindens are somewhat susceptible to Japanese beetles.

Little-leaf lindens are the most susceptible to pests, particularly Japanese beetles. These beetles will chow down on leaves, leaving them as nothing more than skeletons. When infestations are heavy, they can even affect mature trees.

Growth Rate Differences Between Basswoods and Lindens

Most trees grow faster when they are young and slow down as they age. However, some trees have a slow growth rate even when they are young saplings getting established.

Linden trees fall somewhere between medium and fast in terms of growth rate. They are not slow-growing trees!

Basswood trees have a medium growth rate. According to the USDA National Agroforestry Center, a medium growth rate means averaging 1 to 2 feet per year.

Comparatively, silver linden trees have the fastest growth rate, described as ‘rapid.’ Rapid growth rate means this tree grows over 2 feet per year! Big-leaf and little-leaf linens both have growth rates similar to the basswood tree, around 1 to 2 feet per year. 

These classifications are under ideal conditions. If a basswood tree is grown under adverse conditions, such as drought, the growth rate may be slowed down to 12 inches or less per year.

What Can Basswood And Linden Trees Tolerate?

What conditions trees can tolerate will shape the regions where they can grow. Trees that are tolerant of salt will thrive in places close to the ocean or brackish waters. Trees that are drought tolerant will thrive in deserts when others would wilt.

Tolerances can give certain trees advantages over others and can create niche environments that are incredibly important to certain animals or insects.

With lindens, these stoic trees are tolerant of a lot of things thrown at them! We talked a bit about being resistant and tolerant of pests, but now let’s take a closer look at environmental conditions and see the difference between basswood trees and other linden trees.

Tree SpeciesDrought TolerantFire TolerantPollution TolerantWind TolerantHeat TolerantSalt Tolerant
Basswood 
Silver Linden
Bigleaf Linden
Little-leaf Linden

As you can see, each linden tree has its advantages for tolerating certain environmental conditions. Some of these conditions overlap. For example, all four linden tree species are tolerant of urban pollution and all but the little-leaf linden can tolerate drought to some extent.

The silver linden appears to be the most tolerant of challenging environmental conditions. It can withstand almost everything except fire.

Even though basswood trees are considered fire-tolerant, it has thin bark that is easily damaged by fire. However, the tree itself is resistant to fire and will not go up in flames as easily as some other tree species, like cypress and eucalyptus.

Basswood And Linden Tree Soil Preference

Many attributes, such as texture, soil particle size, and ability to hold water, help categorize soil.

In terms of size, soil is broken down into three major categories:

  • Sand
  • Silt
  • Clay

Sand has the biggest particles, allowing for good drainage, and sometimes too good of drainage, leaving the soil dry. Clay has the smallest particles and retains water. Silt falls somewhere in the middle.

Soils can also be loamy, which is a mixture of two or more soil types. There are some blurred lines between soil profiles. For example, you can have ‘silty loam’ or ‘clay loam’ or ‘sandy silt.’

Most linden trees prefer good drainage and can even tolerate drought and hot, dry soil conditions for a short time.

Basswood trees will thrive in almost any soil type, ranging from sand to clay. They prefer well-drained soils but can survive in moist conditions as well. 

Compared to other linden trees, basswoods have the widest range of acceptable soil types. Silver lindens, bigleaf lindens, and little-leaf lindens all prefer loamy soils with good drainage and do not do well with heavy clay or sandy soils.

Where Basswood Trees Grow (Most Common Places)

Autumnal golden american basswood leaves close-up view with selective focus on foreground

Basswood trees have a wide range of temperatures that they can withstand, making them a popular tree for yards and meadows. However, just because the temperature is right doesn’t mean the soil or environmental conditions are right.

Basswood trees grow throughout the entire midwest and northeast regions. They can grow beyond Maine and into southeast Canada. Along the east coast, they will grow as far south as South Carolina.

Basswood trees also grow in Tennessee and the northern regions of Oklahoma!

Unlike other linden trees, the American basswood tree is native to the United States. The bigleaf, little-leaf, and silver lindens all originated in Europe. However, most linden trees now grow in the United States and Canada after being brought over from Europe.

How To Take Care Of A Basswood Tree

Whether you already have a basswood tree in your yard or you’re thinking of planting one, this stately tree is a brilliant choice for shade and wildlife viewing.

Some species of linden tree must be grown from a grafted rootstock, but basswood trees can be planted and grown from seed.

It is best to get a seed from a local basswood tree fruit. These seeds have the best chance of surviving as the parent tree is already acclimated to the soil and environmental conditions. It’s not recommended to get basswood seeds online.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure your basswood tree seed sprouts into a beautiful linden tree that will provide shade for years to come.

  • Step 1 find viable seed (s): Once you have found a local basswood tree and collected the fallen fruit, you’ll want to make sure the seed is viable. Discard the outer coating and toss the seeds in a bucket of water for about a day. Discard any seeds that float – these will not grow.
  • Step 2 wait for spring: Store your seeds in a sealed container in your fridge. Make sure the temperature remains above freezing. It’s recommended to add perlite to the container to keep the seed moist and encourage germination. The Valley Garden’s Organic Perlite for All Plants is a superb choice.
  • Step 3 plant your seeds: Plant your seeds once the threat of frost has passed. Create a ½-inch deep hole, place ¼ inch of potting soil down, and then place the seed on the potting soil. Fill the remaining ¼-inch of the hole with the rest of your potting soil.
  • Step 4 care for your seeds: Water the soil so that it is moist to the touch but allow the soil to dry between waterings. Keep a lookout for squirrels and other digging animals that will dig up your seeds.
  • Step 5 care for your sprout and sapling: Once the seed sprouts, you’ll want to take extra care to keep animals and insects from destroying the sprout before it establishes into a sapling. 

Use coverings like Voglund Nursery Mesh Tree Bark Protector to keep squirrels, deer, and other troublesome critters from stripping the bark off of young saplings. 

Note: Basswood tree seeds can take up to 3 years to germinate. If you don’t see any signs of life after the first year, don’t be too concerned. If after 2-3 years there is still no growth, your seed will most likely not germinate and should be discarded.

Final Thoughts

It can be confusing when you search the internet for basswood tree and the first thing that pops up are the words ‘linden tree.’ 

I hope this article has helped shed some light on the difference between a basswood tree and a linden tree. But, just for a quick recap –

Here are the major differences between basswood and linden trees:

  • Name – basswood is a species of linden tree
  • Growing regions – USDA hardiness zones
  • Height at maturity
  • Uses
  • Leaves – color, length, presence of hairs
  • Pests
  • Growth rate
  • Tolerances
  • Soil Preferences

Best of luck on your tree journey!

References

Edmunds, B., Fick, B., & Lupcho, P. R. (2015). Fire-resistant Landscape Plants for the Willamette Valley. Oregon State University Extension Service.

Hanberry, B. B., Palik, B. J., & He, H. S. (2013). Winning and Losing Tree Species of Reassembly in Minnesota’s Mixed and Broadleaf Forests. PLOS One, 8(4).Tenche-Constantinescu, A. M., Varan, C., Borlea, F., Madosa, E., & Szekely, G. (2015). The symbolism of the linden tree. Journal of Horticulture, Forestry and Biotechnology, 19(2), 237-242.

Zasada, J. (2003). Basswood, linden, lime-tree. Minnesota Better Forests, 8(1), 12-13

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