Tilia americana L. var. heterophylla
Shade Tolerance = Tolerant
Soil Moisture Niche = Moist Sites
Vertical Preference = Canopy
Basswood has large heart-shaped leaves. So do red mulberry and Eastern redbud, but they are uncommon in the Park, occurring mainly in the low elevation zone. Basswood leaves have uneven leaf bases unlike either of the other two trees. The flower/fruit stalks of this tree arise from the surface of a long narrow leaf-shaped bract. This unusual habit immediately distinguishes basswood from all other trees. In late June, the small, round fruits of basswood literally cover the ground in places. Basswood is a very prolific sprouter, and can often be identified by numerous basal sprouts surrounding the main trunk. This is especially evident with older trees.
Basswood trees have stumped (pun intended) plant taxonomists for years in their efforts to classify its several variations into a logical body of tree names. A half-century ago, more than 16 different species were recognized in the Southeast alone. More recently, all but one (white basswood) were tossed into the taxonomic waste bin pending further study. Meanwhile basswood trees continue to grow unruffled by intellectual storms raging in the minds of men!
The straight, even grain, consistent density and light weight of basswood make it outstanding for wood carving, and it is in high demand and expensive for this reason. It’s nice to know the Park’s trees are forever exempted from this fate.
White basswood is a diagnostic member of the classic cove hardwood forest. It flourishes there, never growing very far from flowing water. It follows the cove upstream higher than yellow poplar and cucumbertree into the cool cove forest, but it is usually not abundant there. Basswood usually drops out by the time elevations have reached the northern hardwood forest (about 4500 feet). Unlike buckeye and yellow birch, this tree does not thrive in the frosty air of the high country.