Maybe you’ve noticed a sweet smell in the air as of late. Somewhere between sugary honeysuckle and strong magnolia, it’s delicate and floral, a bit musky. It takes a determined flower to cut through all the olfactory noise and reach our noses in this busy borough, and this year the linden tree is on top of its game.
Also known as basswood or Tilia americana, the linden tree blooms for about two weeks at the beginning of summer, filling the air with a sweet scent that attracts picnickers and buzzing bees alike. The most populous varietal in Brooklyn is the littleleaf, which are commonly found in parks and as street trees.
The littleleaf linden is most easily identified by the shape and distribution of its green leaves. The leaves are simple and they alternate, which means you’ll see one leaf per twig and twigs that match evenly on both sides of the tree branch. The leaf edges are serrated, giving them a tooth like appearance. The flowers are small and pale yellow, and grow in clusters of seven to ten. A fan of leaves appears above each cluster.
Lindens are hardy trees and they thrive in urban areas like Brooklyn because they’re tolerant of poor soil and lackluster irrigation. Destructive insects also don’t bother them. Chris Roddick, senior arborist at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, explained that linden aphids, or plant lice, live on the trees and cause a honey dew drip that attracts ants. The ants return the favor by protecting the aphids from other insects. “Some say the ants are farming the aphids on linden trees as we farm cows,” Roddick said.
With 56 trees right now, Brooklyn Botanic boasts one of the best linden tree collections in the Northeast. It has over 10 different species, some growing side by side. The biggest linden tree in the garden is over 100 feet tall—a real feat for a tree that grows slowly and can take many years to produce shade.