Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
November 6, 2015 Release for Tallahassee Democrat
American Basswood, Tom Jackson Photo Credits
Here in north Florida, we are blessed with a great diversity of native trees. This region supports one of the highest numbers of species in the country so it seems strange that only a relative handful make up the majority of tree plantings in our yards and neighborhoods. Now that tree planting season has arrived with the cooling weather, consider planting some of our less common natives to help diversify Leon County’s urban forest. American basswood (Tilia americana) is a good example of an under-utilized tree. It can be planted as a stand-alone shade tree or used with other natives to enhance mixed urban woodlands.
American basswood’s natural habitat is moist woodlands but it tolerates a wide range of light and soil conditions except for wet, soggy sites. It will reach 50 to 75 feet with a nice, upright, oval form when grown in the open. The large, heart-shaped leaves have pronounced drip tips and are very similar to mulberry. The bark is smooth in early years forming deep furrows as the tree matures. Clusters of greenish-yellow flowers hang from unique leaf-like bracts – a key identification feature of this tree.
This tree benefits wildlife in many ways. Bees are very fond of the fragrant flowers from which they make an excellent honey. Following the flowers are small, rounded fruits which are a favorite of songbirds and small mammals. Buds and leaves of the tree are browsed by deer. Old, mature trees frequently form hollows which make excellent den and nest sites for many kinds of birds and mammals.
Humans have used this tree throughout the ages. The young green leaves are edible and make a great lettuce substitute. The stringy bark can be made into rope and strings. The soft, white wood is relatively strong and great for carving. It can be used to make a variety of products including woodenware, furniture, containers, and musical instruments.
For your next tree planting project, think about using some of our less common native trees such as American basswood. By using more varieties of trees, you can make an important contribution to the long-term health of our beautiful urban forest.
David Copps is a certified arborist and conservation landscape designer and a volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov