A Mysterious Fragrance

  • Post published:07/23/2009
  • Post comments:6 Comments
Tilia cordata
Tilia cordata

At this time of the year the walk to the hen house and back is a particular delight because of the subtle fragrance in the air. The linden trees are blooming. Lindens are also called basswood or lime trees.

We planted 6 linden trees (Tilia cordata, with cordata referring to the heart shaped leaves)  about 18 years ago.  Three were for our three daughters, and three for the three (at the time) granddaughters.  We chose them because they are known as ‘bee trees’, providing bees with an important nectar source.  We have kept bees in the past and are always doing what we can to support honey bees and other pollinators.

We also chose them because of the fragrance.  When I was a student at UMass there was one section of the campus that smelled wonderful in July.  I could never tell where this elusive fragrance came from. One day I was talking to Dick Bonney, beekeeper and UMass entomologist, and mentioned this mysterious fragrance. He took me to a map of the campus that listed all the trees and their locations.  It was the linden trees.

Later my husband and I worked at Williams College where they had a whole row of young lindens, again scenting the summer air with their subtle fragrance.

Unless the branches are low to the ground, as they are at our house, the clusters of tiny pale flowers are not notable or very noticeable; certainly not capable of surrounding one with perfume. It is easy to understand why the British are fond of planting Lime Avenues

Basswood is familiar to those who like to make wooden models or carve wood because it is light and soft.  Our trees are Tilia cordata, the variety most used for medicinal purposes.  It is not difficult to find lime flower tea in specialty stores. Every year I say I will harvest some of my lime flowers and make my own tea, but every year I miss the perfect harvesting days. As you can see from my photo the flowers are starting to go by.

Lime flowers contain flavonoids which act as antioxidents and some say the tea will protect the liver from damage. The tea is also said to help migraines, but as a sufferer myself, I cannot attest to this at all.

Unfortunately three of the 6 trees have died.  One tree  was severely damaged by the snowplow one winter, but survived and showed its propensity to coppice, or send up more shoots. We thought a fourth tree was doomed and cut down the main trunk which had been damaged by mites, but again, it coppiced and is doing fine.  Only one of the remaining trees has the classic form.  All perfume the air.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Peter

    Thank you, Pat! Years ago a fellow college student (I was in architecture,he was in landscape architecture) used to invariably employ tilia cordata in his projects. elm trees still grew on campus and were magnificent, but he insisted that he loved his little leaf linden best/ It seems every design, architects included, has a favorite tree and I’ve often wondered if it’s because they liked tossing the name about. Little leaf linden, little leaf linden, little leaf linden. We all have our small quirks or pleasures, mine of course being Quercus petraea.

    Now not only will I be charged to smell the roses, but the lindens, too.

  2. irena

    the fragrance really is very lovely. I’m lucky to be able to enjoy the scent in my parents’ city front yard and at my in-laws’ little country place too.

  3. admin

    Peter and Irena – I’m so glad you are both familiar with lindens, and their perfume.

  4. Tinky Weisblat

    We all need more fragrance in my gardens. I don’t have your fortitude or skill so I won’t be planting lindens anytime soon, but I loved reading about them and seeing your gorgeous pix. I can imagine the lovely wafts……

  5. Nan

    I must see if they will grow on our cool hill. Tom seems to recall a logger saying we had a basswood, but it is probably deep in the woods somewhere. It would be nice to have such a thing right near the house. Thanks so much, Pat!

  6. admin

    Nan – our hill in Western Mass is pretty cool – in every sense of the word. It is a wonderful tree to have where you can enjoy it. I have heard people say they avoid planting them right near a door – because of those bees. It can freak out guests.

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