Plant identification (or recognition) is not a hobby, but a set of essential skills for everyone's survival and thrive-al. A way of breathing and becoming storied with place—of seeing and being seen. A birthright. They are relational skills that extractive Capitalism does not want us to have, as paying exquisite attention is one of the biggest doorways into a closer relationship with the natural world—dangerous to a culture of domination.
As herbalists, foragers, gardeners, farmers, restoration ecologists, eaters, and just plain ol' humans in this time, I encourage us all (including myself) to stretch our edges of what we think we know to actually see the patterns in the plant world around us. The more we notice and language we have to express what we see, the more we can become skillful and active participants in the ecologies surrounding us. But we have to know who's here first.
I'm offering this Botanical Intimacy Series as an encouragement in this practice. Take your time, go slowly, and see what patterns you notice. Perhaps you'll discover one of these plants in your neighborhood and get to learn from them yourself!
This week's Botanical Intimacy Series: How to Identify Linden Trees
...and 25+ more!
Linden (English), basswood (American), Linde (German), lime (Britain), tilo (Spanish), ıhlamur (Turkish), tilleul (French), panashuk/pishannuk (Choctaw), vhahwv (Creek), липа (Russian), lehmus (Finnish), lipa (Croatia), and more.
Malvaceae, and in the sub-family Tilioideae.
T. americana - Southeastern N America
T. cordifolia - Europe, Middle East, NE Asia
T. japonica - China, Japan
T. tomentosa - SE Europe, SW Asia
Leaf & Stem:
Simple (no lobes)
Saw-toothed edge (serrated margin)
Uneven/asymmetrical at the base (oblique)
Glossy on top, smooth underneath except tufts of hairs in leaf axils
leaves alternate on the stem (alternate)
Flower & Seed:
Inflorescence is called a "cyme." It has a main trunk (peduncle) that is partly fused to a bright leaf-like bract that acts like a maple samara for seed dispersal. Below, it branches into multiple flower stalks (pedicels). Linden cymes are compound and grow from where leaf meets stem (axillary leaf node).
petals: 4-5, white to yellowish, oval to lanceolate, with tiny notches many, in some species grouped in 5 bunches
stamens (pollen bits):
many, in some species grouped in 5 bunches
pistil (egg bits): 1 style (tube to ovary), 5-lobed stigma
Bark & Overall:
bark: Greyish brown, ridged & furrowed. Young tree bark is lighter grey in color with more shallow furrows. Varies by species.
growth habit: Pyramidal shape, ranging from 30-80' tall
conditions: Prefer moist yet well-draining soil, neutral to slightly alkaline. Full to partial sun.
Comparison: Little-leaf Linden (Tilia cordata) vs. American Basswood (Tilia Americana)
Tilia cordata Leaves: 1.5 - 3" wide and long. Margin is more finely serrated.
Flowers: 4-16 per cyme
Bark: Can have orange undertones, more shallow furrows
Shape: More upright as they mature, 60-70 ft tall
American Basswood Tilia americana Leaves: 3.5 - 6" wide and long. Margin is more roughly serrated.
Flowers: 6-16 per cyme, cyme slightly larger than T. cordata
Bark: Can have deeper furrows
Shape: More ovate as they mature, 60-80' tall