Lindens are medium to large deciduous trees of the Tilia genus in the Malvaceae (Mallow) Family.
There are at least 23 species and numerous hybrids native throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.
In Europe and Asia, they are also called lime trees (not citrus), but in North America, they are also called basswood.
Linden trees are fairly easy to identify, although frequent hybridization can make identification at the species level challenging at times.
Let’s learn how to identify the different types of linden trees.
Linden Tree Identification (With Photos)
Linden trees evolved roughly 20 million years ago, with some estimates more and some less, according to APG Web.
They are part of the Malvaceae or Mallow Family, and as a result, many of their identifying characteristics are common features of this large family.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Leaf Arrangement
All linden trees have simple (not compound or lobed) leaves that are arranged alternately, with one leaf per node on alternating sides of the branch.
Leaves are never arranged in opposite pairs like some other trees that have large, simple leaves. They are also never arranged in whorls with three or more leaves per node.
When not in leaf, the fact that linden trees only have lateral buds and no terminal buds can also help to identify them. Willow trees also have no terminal bud, but they tend to be smaller trees with smaller trunks, and the larger willows tend to have deeply furrowed, often diamond or v-grooved, bark.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Leaf Shape
Linden leaves are all fairly similar-looking, large, simple leaves.
They are usually cordate (heart-shaped) or broadly ovate (egg-shaped, widest at the base).
Sometimes they are rounded to nearly rounded but may also be deltoid-ovate, which is in-between deltoid (triangular) and ovate.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Leaf Tips (Apex)
The tips of the leaves can sometimes be used to help identify the different species of linden trees.
The tips can be acuminate (narrowing to a fine point that could be long or short), caudate (like acuminate but with an extended tail or whip-like appendage), mucronate (very short-pointed), or sometimes acute (the two sides are more or less equal and meet at an angle of less than 90°) or rounded (having no defined edges).
Sometimes rounded tips can also appear obtuse, having a broad-angled tip that is nearly round.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Leaf Base
Most linden trees have various cordate bases with a cleft in the base where the petiole attaches, creating lobes on each side, like the base of a heart. They may be shallow to deeply cordate.
Lindens with deltoid-ovate leaves can have rounded or truncated (flat, appearing as though they were cut off) bases.
Certain species, however, are known for usually, or at least often, having oblique or asymmetrical bases that are larger or longer on one side compared to the other.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Leaf Margins
All Linden trees tend to have serrated margins of some kind. Serrated margins have sharp, jagged, forward-pointing teeth.
Some species are finely serrated, having small teeth, while others are more coarsely serrated, having larger teeth.
Henry’s Lime has unique margins that are sometimes described as sharply serrated, but in fact, if you look closely, you see that their margins end in very long and narrow awns created by leaf veins that extend past the leaf margins.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Hairs (Trichomes) and Other Surface Features
Being part of the Malvaceae family, linden trees often have plant hairs, also called trichomes, on their leaves, young twigs, peduncles, pedicels, buds, and fruits.
Hairs seen in linden trees are puberulent (straight, soft, and very short), pubescent (like puberulent but a little longer), downy (used synonymously for pubescent, describing very soft, relatively short hairs), tomentose (curly hairs that are matted against the surface), tomentulose (like tomentose but shorter, sometimes described as tomentose puberulent), or my favorite type that is common among the Malvaceae, stellate (having multi-branched hairs that appear star-like in shape).
Sometimes the color of the hairs, or the absence of hairs, can also help identify the different types of linden trees.
Linden trees all have pinnate venation on their leaves. Pinnate veins are where there is a central vein or midrib with numerous secondary veins radiating from the midrib to the margin of the leaf.
The leaf veins on linden trees are usually prominently raised on the lower leaf surface and quite visible on the upper surface.
Sometimes, the lower leaf surfaces may be mostly hairless except for tufts of hairs seen in the axils of the veins.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Flowers
Linden trees have perfect bisexual flowers, with both male and female organs in the same flower, although they are not self-fertile.
Their flowers are arranged in cymose clusters, a type of branched determinate inflorescence, with three to many flowers per cluster on a short to medium-sized peduncle (inflorescence stalk) that comes from a long, thin, leafy green subtending bract. Where the peduncle separates from the subtending bract varies between different linden trees and can be a useful identification tool.
The number of flowers per cluster and, in some cases, the location of the cluster in relation to the subtending bract (above or below it) can help identify the different types of linden trees.
Linden trees all have five free sepals and five free petals. Sepals are the outer whorl of the flower, they are often green in other plants, but in lindens, they only vary slightly in color from the petals, usually a creamy light yellow or off-white.
Many of the hybrid lindens produce sterile flowers, often because instead of having stamens, they have only staminodes.
Stamens are the male organs of the flowers consisting of a filament (stalk) and an anther which is the pollen-producing and releasing organ of the flower.
A staminode is a sterile stamen that may or may not resemble the stamen of the flower but are usually at least shorter than a regular stamen.
Some species have both stamens and staminodes in their flowers.
Their flowers also have superior ovaries that are easily visible and held above the sepals and petals. The ovary contains the ovules that, if fertilized, become the seeds of the fruit formed from the ovary. Their ovaries typically have one long style coming out of it, a specialized stalk that directs pollen into the ovary from the stigma. The stigma is the female receptive organ of the flower that receives the pollen; it is located at the tip of the style.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Fruits
Linden trees all produce dry drupes as their fruits that have thick or thin woody shells, which often have them mistaken for nuts or nutlets.
A nut or nutlet is a type of fruit with a hard pericarp and a single seed inside. Lindens do not produce nuts.
A drupe, on the other hand, is a type of fruit with a hard stony pit inside a fleshy or dry outer layer. The stony pit inside contains the seed. Many false nuts, like almonds, are actually the seeds of a drupe.
Drupes are normally fleshy like the cherries produced by cherry trees, but in lindens, the drupes are dry and hard on the outside.
Some linden drupes have ribs or edges on them, while others are smooth. The presence or absence of ribbing on their shells can help identify the different types of linden trees.
Identifying Linden Trees by Branch Growth
The orientation of the branches is what helps to create a tree’s form.
Most linden trees have ascending branches that are directed toward the top of the tree as well as some horizontal branches that come out of the trunk at a 90-degree angle, which then often have ascending tips. This is what helps create rounded or oval crowns.
Rarely linden trees can have pendulous twigs that droop toward the ground rather than ascending, creating a somewhat weeping look to the otherwise rounded crown.
Identifying Linden Trees by Tree Habit
Tree habit or form is the overall shape of a tree when viewed from a distance.
Most linden trees have rounded to narrowly rounded (also called oval) crowns, while a few species are more pyramidal, like a Christmas tree (wider at the bottom and narrowing toward the top).
Lindens can come in single-trunk or multi-trunked forms. When having a single trunk, their trunks are often quite wide, with some species reaching 8 ft in diameter at maturity.
Identifying Linden Trees by Their Bark
All linden bark starts out smooth when young. The trunks of linden trees are almost always gray, but some are brown.
As the trees mature, they rarely retain their smooth bark. Often they develop shallow and fine furrows or grooves in their bark, separated by slightly taller ridges. The furrows are almost always vertical or nearly so. However, in some species, their bark develops a combination of vertical and horizontal or diagonal furrows creating blocky plates and/or intersecting ridges that can help identify those species.
The color of the bark on the twigs can sometimes be used to identify the different types of lindens, as can their surface hairs.
The European Linden can often be identified by the presence of burls (sometimes called burrs) at the base of its trunk, creating wide bumpy-looking trunks. Burls are deformed outgrowths on trees that resemble giant warts. They usually result from some kind of stress, damage, or pest that triggers unusual growth.
11 Linden Trees & Their Identifying Features
1. American Basswood Identifying Features – Tilia americana
American Basswoods are medium to large trees with rounded to oval crowns in single or sometimes multi-trunked forms.
Leaves are 2 – 7.9” long, 2 – 5.9” wide, cordate to broadly ovate with usually cordate and often oblique bases. Lower surfaces may be hairless or stellate hairy, becoming mostly hairless except for tufts in the vein axils; upper surfaces are mostly hairless. Margins are serrated, often coarsely.
Drooping inflorescences of 5 – 10(-15) flowers per cluster are each subtended by a 2.75 – 5.9” long hairy to hairless bract with a peduncle diverging from near or past its middle.
Pedicels are 0.16 – 0.75” long, hairy to hairless, and often weakly club-shaped.
Flowers have stamens and staminodes that are about as long as the petals.
Fruits are ellipsoid to rounded dry drupes 0.2 – 0.4” in diameter.
Often Confused With: American Basswood is mostly confused with the Little-Leaf Linden, which has 5 – 7 flowers per cluster held above their bracts instead of below it, and its leaves are usually smaller and only occasionally oblique (asymmetrical).
Other Common Names: American Linden, American Lime
Native Area: Eastern North America in Canada from Manitoba east to New Brunswick, and in the USA from Nebraska southeast to South Carolina (excluding the more southern botanical variants listed below; otherwise, its southern range extends into northern Central America).
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 ft (to 110 ft) tall, 35 – 45 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the American Basswood
2. Carolina Basswood Identifying Features – Tilia americana var. caroliniana
Carolina Basswood is a southern variant of the American Basswood that appears very similar in terms of size and shape.
However, its 2.75 – 7.5” long and 2.25 – 5.5” wide leaves have more finely toothed margins, usually oblique bases, are light green and smooth above but silvery-white downy pubescent on their lower surfaces, giving it its other common name of Downy Linden.
It also has larger flowers than American Basswood that are produced in clusters of 10 – 24.
It also has a narrower climatic tolerance, only doing well in USDA Zones 7 – 9.
This Linden tree is sometimes treated as its own species, Tilia caroliniana, but for now, most plant authorities do not recognize it as a distinct species. As with all the American Lindens, relationships are unclear, and hopefully, DNA and molecular phylogenetics should clarify them in the near future.
Often Confused With: Carolina Basswood can be differentiated from American Basswood by having 10 – 24 flowers per cluster instead of 5 – 15, and its leaves that are downy silvery-white pubescent on the lower surface rather than mostly hairless.
Other Common Names: Florida Basswood, Small-leaved Basswood, Downy Basswood, Carolina Linden, Florida Linden, and Downy Linden
Native Area: Southern and southeastern USA and into eastern Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 60 ft (to 100 ft) tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Carolina Basswood
3. White Basswood Identifying Features – Tilia americana var. heterophylla
White Basswood is another botanical variant of Tilia americana, sometimes treated as its own species, Tilia heterophylla. However, plant authorities consider it a synonym.
It is most similar to the Carolina Basswood, but in this case, its lower leaf surfaces are very conspicuously hairy with more dense white pubescent hairs. It also grows in higher, colder, mountainous environments where the Carolina variant will not grow.
Otherwise, its leaves vary enormously in size and shape, even on the same tree, giving it its other scientific name Tilia heterophylla, meaning multiple leaf types.
Many of its other features are also quite variable and unreliable in identification.
Again, hopefully, in the near future, DNA and molecular phylogenetics will help clarify the relationships and number of species, subspecies, etc, of the American linden trees.
Often Confused With: White Basswood can be differentiated from the American Basswood and the Carolina Basswood by its very densely downy white pubescent lower leaf surfaces. It could be confused with Silver Linden, but the lower leaf surface is very white rather than silvery.
Other Common Names: Beetree Linden, Mountain Basswood
Native Area: Eastern North America from southern and southeastern USA and into eastern Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the White Basswood
4. Bigleaf Linden Identifying Features – Tilia platyphyllos
Bigleaf Linden gets its name from its large 2.4 – 5.9” long leaves that are ovate to cordate and medium to dark green above and white downy pubescent below, especially along the veins; they turn yellowish in the fall.
The leaf tips are mucronate, bases are cordate, margins are sharply serrated, and its pubescent petioles are 0.6 – 2” long.
It has a moderate growth rate and a narrowly rounded crown with ascending branches and reddish-green twigs that are slightly pubescent.
The bark becomes gray with fine furrows when mature.
Small, fragrant yellowish-white flowers are in drooping 3 – 4-flowered cymose clusters with whitish-green leafy bracts and 0.6 – 1.2” long peduncles. They have numerous stamens, no staminodes, and one smooth style.
Fruits are rounded, tomentose, cream-colored nut-like 0.4” drupes with woody shells with 3 – 5 ridges.
Often Confused With: Bigleaf Linden is often confused with Little-Leaf Linden, which has smaller leaves, more flowers in erect clusters held above their bracts rather than below, and fruits that are not ribbed. It is also confused with the European Linden; however, that tree usually has burls on its trunk, more flowers in its clusters, and fruits that are only faintly ribbed.
Other Common Names: Largeleaf Linden, Large-Leaved Linden, and Large-Leaved Lime.
Native Area: Europe and southwestern Asia.
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft (to 120 ft) tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Bigleaf Linden
5. Little-Leaf Linden Identifying Features – Tilia cordata
Little-Leaf Linden is a medium to large deciduous tree with an oval to pyramidal crown, ascending branches, and smooth grayish bark that becomes furrowed with age with both horizontal and vertical furrows.
Its leaves are small for a linden at 1.2 – 3.2” long and wide. They are cordate, rounded to deltoid-ovate in shape with mostly caudate to acuminate tips. They are mostly hairless except for occasional tufts of brownish hairs in the lower leaf vein axils.
Small yellow-green flowers are produced in somewhat erect clusters of 5 – 7 flowers that are held above its leafy yellowish-green subtending bract instead of below like other lindens.
Fruits are small nut-like dry drupes about ¼” long and not quite as wide, downy becoming smooth, and are not ribbed but are thin and easy to crack, revealing 1 – 2 small brown seeds inside.
Often Confused With: Little-Leaf Linden is sometimes confused with American Basswood, which has larger leaves with oblique bases and more flowers per cluster that hang below their subtending bract. It is also confused with European Linden, which also has flowers that droop below their subtending bract rather than being held above it, and its fruits are faintly ribbed rather than smooth.
Other Common Names: Littleleaf Linden, Little Leaf Lime, Small-Leaved Lime, Small-Leaved Linden, Pry, or Pry Tree.
Native Area: Throughout Britain and mainland Europe to the Caucasus and in western Asia, it is only found at high elevations in the southern end of its range.
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 ft (to 131 ft) tall, 35 – 50 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Littleleaf Linden
6. European Linden Identifying Features – Tilia × europaea
European Linden is a naturally occurring hybrid between the Little-Leaf and Bigleaf Lindens and has intermediate characteristics between both of its parents.
It is a usually large deciduous tree with a large trunk up to 8 ft wide that often has burls and dense brushwood at its base.
Leaves are intermediate at 2 – 6” long and 2 – 5” wide with thinly pubescent lower surfaces with more conspicuous tufts in the vein axils.
Fragrant flowers are produced in drooping clusters of 4 – 10 held below their leafy yellow-green subtending bract.
Flowers have no stamens and five staminodes; they are functionally sterile.
The fruit is a dry nut-like drupe ⅜” in diameter that is downy and faintly ribbed and does not contain fertile seeds.
Often Confused With: European Linden is mostly confused with the Little-Leaf Linden, which tends to have smaller leaves, and its fertile flowers are held in somewhat erect clusters of 5 – 7 flowers that are held above rather than below their subtending bracts.
Other Common Names: European Lime, Common Lime, and Common Linden.
Native Area: United Kingdom, wherever the Little-Leaf and Bigleaf Lindens overlap in their range; however, it is mostly known only in cultivation since the hybrids are sterile.
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 ft (to 164 ft) tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the European Linden
7. Crimean Linden Identifying Features – Tilia x euchlora
Crimean Linden is another hybrid linden thought to have come from Little-Leaf Linden and Tilia dasystyla, a rare narrow endemic in the Ukraine Crimea. The parentage is uncertain partly because the two possible parents did not share the same habitat.
It is a medium to large deciduous tree with a rounded to pyramidal crown with dense branching that may become somewhat pendulous.
Young bark is grayish-brown and smooth, becoming fissured with age.
Leaves are cordate, 2 – 3.5” long, 2 – 3” wide, glossy dark green above and paler green below, with tufts of hair along the veins and serrated margins; the fall color is yellow.
Fragrant flowers are white to pale yellow and appear in cymose clusters of 3 – 7 flowers.
Fruits are small grayish-brown hairy nut-like dry drupes that are sterile.
Often Confused With: Crimean Linden is mostly confused with Little-Leaf Linden, which has smaller leaves that are not so glossy dark green, and its somewhat erect clusters of 5 – 7 flowers are held above rather than below its subtending bract.
Other Common Names: Caucasian Lime, Caucasian Linden
Native Area: Originated from seeds gathered in the Ukraine Crimea sometime in the 1800s, no additional specimens have been found in the wild
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Crimean Linden
8. Silver Linden Identifying Features – Tilia tomentosa
Silver Linden is a medium to large deciduous tree with a broad trunk up to 7 ft in diameter and a broadly columnar to rounded crown.
Leaves are rounded to deltoid-ovate, 1.6 – 5.2” long and wide, with a 1 – 1.6” petiole. Leaves are green and mostly hairless above but densely white tomentose below, giving them a silvery appearance, especially when they shimmer in the wind. Margins are coarsely serrated, and tips are acute to acuminate.
Fragrant flowers are pale yellow appearing in drooping cymes of 3 – 10 flowers in mid to late summer with a pale green leafy subtending bract.
Fruits are dry, downy pubescent, nut-like drupes about ⅓” long and are slightly ribbed.
Often Confused With: Silver Linden is often confused with Little-Leaf Linden, which can have similar-sized leaves, but their tips are often caudate or long-acuminate, and their lower surfaces are mostly hairless except for tufts of brownish hairs in vein axils. It is also confused with Bigleaf Linden, which has mucronate leaf tips and downy-pubescent lower leaf surfaces.
Other Common Names: Silver Lime
Native Area: Southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia, from Romania and the Balkans east to western Turkey, found mostly at moderate altitudes.
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 ft (to 100 ft) tall, 25 – 50 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Silver Linden
The Weeping Silver Linden is sometimes classified as its own species, Tilia petiolaris, but most plant authorities consider that a synonym of the Silver Linden.
It differs from the Silver Linden in having tomentulose pendulous twigs that become hairless with maturity.
Its leaves also have longer petioles at 1.2 – 3.2” long, which also make the leaves appear pendulous and drooping.
The leaves are nearly rounded in shape and are densely white puberulent or tomentulose on their lower surfaces.
It is often sterile and may be a hybrid.
Often Confused With: Weeping Silver Linden can be differentiated from Silver Linden by its pendulous twigs and pendulous leaves with longer petioles.
Other Common Names: Pendant Silver Linden
Native Area: Western Asia; usually only found in cultivation.
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 ft (to 98 ft) tall, 25 – 40 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Weeping Silver Linden
10. Henry’s Lime Identifying Features – Tilia henryana
Henry’s Lime is a unique small to medium-sized linden with smooth pale gray bark becoming fissured with age.
Leaves are rounded, 2.4 – 4” long and wide with a cordate or occasionally oblique base and a rounded to shortly caudate tip. They are on a 1.2 – 2” long yellow tomentose petiole.
Lower leaf surfaces are densely yellow stellate-tomentose or hairy only in vein axils; the upper surface is hairless. They have 5 – 6 pairs of lateral veins that extend past the leaf margins producing 0.12 – 0.2” long bristly awns that are also stellate hairy.
Fragrant flowers are in dense 30 – 100-flowered cymose clusters with stellate puberulent peduncles and subtending bracts (lower surface).
Flowers have stamens as long as their sepals and staminodes, which are shorter than the petals. They bloom in September, long after other lindens.
Fruits are obovoid, 5-angled, and stellate hairy.
Often Confused With: The bristly awns on the nearly rounded leaves, smaller size trees, the abundance of stellate hairs, and flowers in very dense clusters make it difficult to confuse Henry’s Lime with any other linden tree.
Native Area: Native to Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, and Zhejiang provinces in China.
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft (to 50 ft) tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Henry’s Lime
11. Glenleven Linden Identifying Features – Tilia flavescens ‘Glenleven’
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
Glenleven Linden is a popular cultivar that comes from the Tilia flavescens hybrids with American Basswood and Little-Leaf Linden parents that exist only in cultivation and has numerous cultivars derived from it. Being a hybrid, the cultivar’s features are intermediate between its parents and are variable.
The Glenleven cultivar is a fast-growing linden with a very straight trunk and a more open pyramidal crown that casts only moderate shade as compared to the more dense crowns of most linden trees.
It has dark green cordate leaves that turn a pleasing shade of yellow in the fall.
It is a prolific bloomer with clusters of small fragrant flowers that appear from late June to July and persist in dried form on the tree well into late summer.
Often Confused With: Glenleven Linden can be differentiated from its parents, the American Basswood and Little-Leaf Linden, by its more open, pyramidal crown and its smaller mature size. Otherwise, its variable features can make it hard to distinguish, but the presence of intermediate characters will help identify it.
Other Common Names: Tilia cordata ‘Glenleven’
Origin: An open-pollinated hybrid of the American Basswood and Little-Leaf Linden that only exists in cultivation. This one was selected from seedlings from Sheridan Nurseries in Ontario, Canada, in 1963.
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft tall, 25 – 35 ft spread
More Information: Find out more about the Glenleven Linden
Lovely Linden Trees
I hope you have enjoyed learning how to identify the lovely linden trees found throughout the northern hemisphere. Now you can use your newfound skills to go out and identify the lindens around you!
If you want information on linden trees, their various uses, and other interesting facts, check out the accompanying article on the different types of Linden trees.
- 11 Different Types of Linden Trees (with Photos)
- How to Identify Linden Trees (Leaf, Bark, Flowers & More)
- 8 Different Types of Baobab Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)
- 26 Different Types of Apple Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)
- 17 Different Types of Lilac Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)
Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.