Silver Linden (Tilia tomentosa)

Silver linden leaves
Silver linden foliage, front and back. Olympia, WA. Photo by Sandy Smith

The silver linden is a large, stately shade tree that works well in a big space or public area. There are several species of linden in the trade and the silver linden stands out for its foliage. The undersides of the dark green leaves are silver and prone to flutter in the slightest breeze, creating a striking, two-toned, shimmering effect.

The silvery color on the undersides of the leaves is due to the presence of tiny silvery white hairs. This feature, which gives the tree its name and accounts for a stunning visual effect, also provides some natural resistance to insect pests such as aphids.

Mature silver linden in the landscape.
Mature silver linden in Olympia, WA. Photo by Bob Buzzo

This tree is native to Southeastern Europe and Western Asia and was introduced to North America when the Europeans arrived. Like most linden trees, silver linden is hardy on both sides of the Cascades has been proven to thrive in urban conditions; it tolerates heat, drought, compacted soil, and pollution better than other lindens.

Silver lindens grow in full sun or partial shade and the species is not particular about soil pH. At maturity silver linden can reach heights of 70 feet with a crown spread of up to 50 feet, so it is not a tree for small space. Branches are strongly upright when young however the tree develops a broad, pyramidal canopy with age. This is a particularly long lived deciduous tree—in fact there is a famous specimen in Romania that is over 500 years old!

Flowers are pale yellow and difficult to see in the tree canopy, but they are particularly fragrant and pollinated by honeybees.

A mature silver linden in leaf.
A mature silver linden in leaf. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

When these trees are in full bloom in midsummer, there can be so many bees present that a chorus of buzzing can be heard beneath them.

There are reports that silver linden pollen can have narcotic-like toxicity for other species of bees; bumblebees are particularly susceptible and need to be careful not to over-indulge. Not to fear however, as silver linden poses no such risks to humans.

The fruit, which are small nutlets, are 1/4 to 3/8 inches in diameter and are borne on narrow bract-like wings that hang below the foliage and provide additional interest in late summer and fall. Fall color is muted, usually pale green to pale yellow. The branching structure of this tree retains visual interest in the winter months after the leaves are gone.

If you have a space that can accommodate a large tree, the silver linden comes with many interesting features that make it worthy of your consideration.

By Robert Buzzo

Robert Buzzo has worked in the nursery industry in Western Washington for over 40 years. For the past 28 years he has been the Manager of Lawyer Nursery, Inc. in Olympia. He has a degree in Plant Science from UC Davis, is a Certified Professional Horticulturalist (CPH) and is a member of the Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association (WSNLA).