My linden tree (Tilia Americana) is still trunk-deep in snow. And I am still far from home. So again this month, I can’t post an up-to-date photo of the tree as it is.
I can, though, post photos of the tree as it has been. And those photos, taken from a collection that spans the last ten years or so, show me that the tree conforms perfectly to descriptions I find on-line, on various government and educational websites.
My linden is about 60 feet tall, well within its normal range of 40-100 feet. The tree is upright, with an oval canopy that creates a shade so dense that even on the brightest day, your eyes feel refreshed when you sit underneath. The branches reach out to create a circle that is some 35-40 feet wide. (I’m guessing; perhaps by next month I will have measured the height, the spread and the diameter of the trunk.) They are spreading, and the lower branches droop perceptibly before sweeping up in a gentle curve.
The bark is a light brownish-gray with fissures that run in narrow lines in some sections, in criss-crossed whirls in others. Beneath, the wood is relatively soft, said to be good for hand carving although I can’t vouch for that, never having tried.
My linden varies from the norm in one particular. The American linden is said to have a straight trunk but mine does not. It starts with one straight trunk, but about six feet off the ground that single trunk divides into five. Each of these branches, or trunks, is large enough to form an individual tree.
Tilia Americana is one of the most difficult native North American trees to propagate, as the seeds have a low viability rate, only approximately 30%. The seeds also develop an extremely hard coating that can delay germination for several years. So instead of depending on seeds, the tree most often spreads by suckering, and old trees will often sprout from a stump. This may explain the multiple trunks of my linden – years ago, someone may have cut the tree, leaving a tall stump behind.
Once, when less experienced as a speaker, I described my linden as the Platonic Idea of a Tree. A puzzled audience member asked me what I meant. I could have dipped deeply into my memories of undergraduate philosophy courses and talked about Plato’s analogy of the cave, that we see only the shadow of the Real Thing, that the Form Tree-ness is unchanging unlike individual examples of trees that shift over time. Thankfully, I didn’t. Instead, I said I meant simply that the tree was as close to perfection as I could imagine. And indeed it is, perfectly formed and as regular in its profile as a child’s drawing of a tree.
The multiple branches, combined with the linden’s natural growth pattern, account for the regularity of its canopy. Like all lindens, mine is deciduous, so a winter photo shows the pattern of branches most clearly. Winter modifies the colour of the bark, or seems to, changing it from brownish-grey to near black. This impression is strongest when the branches are outlined with snow, On a bright day, the black branches form sharp-edged shadows that dance on the glittery snow beneath.
To my surprise, I find that I have no photos that show the snow-lined branches as clearly as I like. And I have no photos at all that show the winter shadows. I do have a photo that gives a general idea of what those shadows look like. It is a spring photo, but it will have to do.
I’ve never tried to germinate a seed from my linden, nor do I intend to. I’m satisfied with the singular example I have. Or with the double version, if you count the shadow as well.