Wednesday, August 28, 2019


My ears perk up a bit when a somewhat familiar word pops up in different contexts over the course of a few days. "Linden" came up in a crossword puzzle--not uncommon--and then I noticed it coming up several time in the book I'm currently reading, The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Not really a surprise there either, as its a book pretty much devoted to trees. But then it came up in a Swedish folk song at a concert I was at the other night and I finally became curious enough to learn exactly what a linden is.

Bruce Martin, Morton Arboretum, Chicago
Let's start with a description from The Overstory:

Now the linden, it turns out, is a radical tree, as different from an oak as a woman is from a man. It's the bee tree, the tree of peace, whose tonics and teas can cure every kind of tension and anxiety--a tree that cannot be mistaken for any other, for alone in all the catalog of a hundred thousand earthly species, its flowers and tiny hard fruit hang down from surfboard bracts whose sole perverse purpose seems to be to state its own singularity.

It's quite possible that you are living near a linden tree and don't even know it. This is partly because, as Powers expresses many times in his book, humans in general don't pay enough attention to the trees they live alongside of. I certainly don't, though maybe by the time I finish his long novel, I'll be a little better at it. But another reason is that 'linden' isn't the only name we know these trees under. In England, apparently, they are frequently referred to as lime trees, even though they aren't the trees that grow the citrus fruit we call limes. (Don't even get me started on what the name of the tree that grows limes is.) In America, they may also be called basswood. Or you might hear one described by the genus name, Tilia.

There are about thirty species in the Tilia family, but Wikipedia tells us that the leaves of all of them are heart shaped and tend to be irregular.

What really got me going in Powers' description though, were those 'surfboard bracts'. I couldn't quite visualize them. Turns out that the 'surfboard' is really another kind of leaf.

                              by Virens
The linden tree turns out to be too big a subject for one blog post, so I'm going to take it up again in a subsequent one. But I thought I'd leave you for now with that Swedish folk song I heard-- 'Maj Vare Valkommen' or 'May Be Welcome'.

The lyrics in English are HERE, but you can actually hear them mention the linden tree in the first verse. Although one of the translations I found referred to it as a lime...