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Gardening 101: Littleleaf Linden Tree

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Gardening 101: Littleleaf Linden Tree

August 28, 2017

Littleleaf Linden, Tilia cordata: “Lime Tree”

On the Fourth of July I got an email from a Canadian friend who was vacationing on the eastern shore of Long Island. She said that all over the town of  Southampton, where she was staying, she had been overwhelmed by the “most amazing aroma” of a tree she didn’t recognize.  She asked me if I could identify it. The three photos she sent, including a closeup of some heart-shaped leaves and dangling pale yellow flowers, showed clearly that the lovely tree in question was a linden.

Read on for everything you need to know about Tilia cordata:

Photograph by Rudolf Schäfer via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Rudolf Schäfer via Flickr.

Indeed, here in New York City in recent years I have become increasingly aware of the light, sweet perfume of lindens in early summer.  Sometimes it wafts over the stone wall that surrounds Central Park or finds you in the Osborne Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Other times you catch a surprisingly delightful whiff on an otherwise unappealing block in a grittier part of town.

Photograph by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr.

In New York and other urban centers, city planners have increasingly come to acknowledge how vital street trees are for removing pollutants from the air and reducing storm water runoff.  Much research has been done to identify suitable species that will stand up to the vicissitudes of urban life. Lindens, particularly the littleleaf linden (which tends not to be as massive as some of its relatives such as the silver linden and the bigleaf linden), are being used more frequently to line city byways.

What works for the urban public can also benefit the individual homeowner. If you live in a cool climate and are lucky enough to have room for a large (approximately 50- to 80-foot tall and 30-to 50-foot wide) ornamental tree, littleleaf linden with its gently rounded pyramid shape and low-maintenance requirements, is a candidate worth considering. The decorative features of this tree persist into fall, when the flowers give way to dangling clusters of small fuzzy brown nutlets and the leaves turn a pleasant yellow.

Photograph by Peter O&#8
Above: Photograph by Peter O’Connor via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

Because it has a dense branching habit, Tilia cordata provides abundant shade.

  • It grows quickly and tolerates hard pruning, which can make it useful as a hedge or privacy screen.
  • It is slow to bloom in the spring so the flowers and their enticing scent tend to appear after early bloomers have run out of steam.
  • This tree tolerates poor and even compacted soil as well as air pollution.

Keep It Alive

  • You can plant littleleaf linden in full sun or partial shade as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sunlight a day.
  • Grow it in cool areas, in USDA zones 3 to 7.
  • Water this tree well until it is established and also during times of drought.
  • In general, littleleaf linden is not prone to disease or insect attacks except for that of the Japanese beetle (which can defoliate and, in extreme infestations, even kill this tree).
Photograph by Rudolf Schäfer via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Rudolf Schäfer via Flickr.

When deciding where to plant a littleleaf linden, be aware that it is a pollinator magnet.  There are reports of littleleaf lindens with so many bees on them that the whole tree seems to buzz.  One happy result of this is linden honey, which has been enjoyed for hundreds of years both in Asia, where this tree is thought to have originated, as well as in northern Europe and Great Britain where it is commonly referred to as a “lime” tree.  The honey is promoted for its antioxidant qualities and medicinal properties such as aiding digestion and alleviating symptoms of the common cold. Tea brewed from the dried linden flowers is said to share these benefits as well as helping to calm anxiety and treat sleep disorders.

N.B.: Choosing a tree is a big decision; the right tree will benefit generations to come. See more:

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