Plant Basswood trees where they will get full sun to partial shade

July 29, 2020

We often mishear the lyrics in songs, for instance as one schoolboy recited, "I led the pigeons to the flag" for "I pledge allegiance to the flag," or Bob Dylan's “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” became “The ants are my friends...”

One that became famous because he often jokingly sang the wrong words onstage, was the Jimi Hendrix line, "Excuse me while I kiss the sky," which became "Excuse me while I kiss this guy."

Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster, an electric guitar. Most electric guitars have solid wood bodies, and one of the most popular woods to use is from the American Basswood tree (Tilia americana).

Basswood trees, also called American linden, are among the few flowering trees that bloom in summer. Although the creamy white or pale-yellow flowers are not showy, they are deliciously fragrant, and an important source of food for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The leaves and flowers are both edible, with young leaves being most tender. Because basswood is so soft and light, it is perfect for hand carving.

Native Americans used the soft inner bark to make baskets, tangle-free ropes, twine and fishing nets. The Ojibwa tribes use basswood fiber to tie unripe wild rice plants before harvest. The basswood twine is sewn to a woman's blouse in such a way that she can tie rice plants even when working alone.

Bees use the nectar to make spectacular linden flower honey, a somewhat spicy gourmet treat.

Basswood trees are not fussy or high-maintenance, and they tend to live about 150 years. These trees are quite hardy and thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8. The fast-growing trees can shoot up two feet each year until they reach about 65 to 70 feet tall.

The two-toned leaves are green on the upper surface and a lighter green underneath. This is not a one-act show, because after the flowers, the basswood leaves change to soft yellow, dark gold and tan every autumn.

Basswood trees prefer moist soil although they also thrive in clay, loamy or sandy soils. Soil acidity doesn't seem to affect them, and they will grow in a wide range, from highly acidic to highly alkaline soils.

Plant Basswood trees where they will get full sun to partial shade. These hardy trees are rarely bothered by disease or insects. Basswoods are useful when planted as shelter-belts, or shade trees for large yards. Two varieties, Fastigiata and Redmond basswood trees, do not seem to cause much root damage, so they make excellent street trees.

You can order basswood or American linden trees from local nurseries or by mail from specialty growers such as Greentec Nursery ( or Coldstream Farm (/

For summer blooms, lots of shade and a hardy tree, plant basswood trees. Then sit under the shade and listen to electric guitars, even if “Bohemian Rhapsody” becomes “Bohemian Rap City,” “The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes” turns into “The Girl with Colitis Goes By" or ”I'll Never Be Your Beast of Burden” morphs into “I'll Never Leave Your Pizza Burning.”

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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