The forest-products industry lumps the four native North American basswood species together in the marketplace, for there are few differences between them, except where they grow. Tilia americana, of the northern Great Lakes states, provides most of the basswood harvested. In a setting of mixed hardwoods in the well-drained ground of a stream valley, basswood can grow to 90' tall with a straight trunk 3' in diameter. But because basswood sprouts from the stump, it's often seen as a clump of three or four smaller trunks. Young basswood trees feature light gray, smooth bark, while that of older trees becomes darker and deeply ridged. In late winter, small reddish-brown buds appear on branch twigs. Their nutlike flavor signals that you've found a basswood tree. When leaves form, they have a distinctive heart shape with lightly serrated edges. The leaves also display an unusual trait: The undersides, not the tops, are shiny. Clusters of sweet-smelling white or cream-colored flowers follow the leaves. Weighing about 26 pounds per cubic foot air-dried, the wood has a tan color, and in some cases may be nearly white. You'll find the grain of this soft hardwood straight, close, and normally featureless. Occasional basswood stock may display some dark stain, which doesn't affect the wood's performance but may mar a project. Dry basswood is stable.
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