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Botanical Intimacy Series: How to Identify Linden trees

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

The Basics

Latin Names:

  • Tilia americana

  • Tilia cordifolia

  • Tilia japonica

  • Tilia tomentosa

  • ...and 25+ more!

Common Names:

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.

Native Range:

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)

  • Heart-shaped (cordate)

  • 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:

overall form:

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)

Little-leaf Linden

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

Other Neat Things:
wildlife: Very attractive to honeybees and other pollinators—the fragrant blooming trees are loudly abuzz! T. americana is known to attract lightning bugs. Seeds are food for birds and small mammals like squirrels.
wood: Also known as basswood, the wood of linden is known to be light, soft and easy for carving. Coppices well. The inner bark has long traditional use as a fiber for weaving baskets, nets, mats and more.
food: Young linden leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Slight mucilage texture. One of only a few trees with edible leaves!
...and they're very medicinal. (Why else identify them?! :) See my Instagram post for more.)

References: Beyer, Rebecca. "The Folkloric Uses of Wood Part VIII Basswood." 2016. - Byington, Cyrus. A Dictionary of the Choctaw Language. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 46. George,Benjamin. "PSC 2620" Utah State University -
Henriette’s Herbal -
Hutton, Kimberly. "A Comparative Study of the Plants Used for Medicinal Purposes by the Creek and Seminoles Tribes." 2010.
NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox -

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you recognize the linden trees growing around you!
I also welcome any feedback or any linden identification patterns you want to share with our community of greening thumbs. Plant intimacy is a communal effort.


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