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Basswood (Family Tiliaceae)


Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees, native throughout most of

the temperate Northern Hemisphere, in Asia (where the greatest species
diversity is found), Europe and eastern North America; it is not native to
western North America. Under the Cronquist classification system, this
genus was placed in Family Tiliaceae, but genetic research by theAngio-

sperm Phylogeny Group has resulted in the incorporation of this family

into the Malvaceae. They are generally called lime in Britain and linden

or basswood in North America.


The Tilia is recommended as an ornamental tree when a mass of foliage
or a deep shade is desired. The tree produces fragrant and nectar-produc-

ing flowers, the medicinal herb lime blossom. They are very important

honey plants for beekeepers, producing a very pale but richly flavoured monofloral honey. The flowers are also used for herbal tea, and this infu-

sion is particularly popular in Europe.


Tilia cordata is the preferred species for medical use, having a high con-

centration of active compounds. It is said to be a nervine, used by herb-

alists in treating restlessness, hysteria, and headaches. Usually, the dou-

ble-flowered Tilias are used to make perfumes. The leaf buds and young

leaves are also edible raw. Tilia species are used as food plants by the

larvae of some Lepidoptera (i.e., butterfly) species.


The timber of Tilia trees is soft, easily worked, and has very little grain.
It is a popular wood for model building and intricate carving. Especially

in Germany, it was the classic wood for sculpture from the Middle Ages
onwards, and is the material for the elaborate altarpieces of Veit Stoss,
Tilman Riemenschneider and many others. Ease of working and good
acoustic properties also make it popular for electric guitar and bass bodies
and wind instruments such as recorders. In the past, it was typically used
for less-expensive models. However, due to its better resonance at mid and
high frequency, and better sustain than alder, it is now more commonly in
use with the "superstrat" type of guitar. It can also be used for the neck
because of its excellent material integrity when bent and ability to produce
consistent tone without any dead spots according to Parker Guitars. In the
percussion industry, Tilia is sometimes used as a material for drum shells,
both to enhance their sound and their aesthetics. It is also the wood of
choice for the window-blinds and shutters industries. Real wood blinds are
often made from this lightweight but strong and stable wood which is well
suited to natural and stained finishes.


It is known in the trade as basswood, particularly in North America. This
name originates from the inner fibrous bark of the tree, known as 'bast'. A
very strong fibre is obtained from this, by peeling off the bark and soaking
in water for a month; after which the inner fibres can be easily separated.
Bast obtained from the inside of the bark of the Tilia tree has been used

by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, the attus.
Similar fibres are obtained from other plants are also called bast, named
after those from the Tilia.



Back to Inventory of Tree Families and Species

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