Basswoods have simple, long-petioled, coarsely toothed, broadly heart-shaped leaves, arranged alternately on their twigs. The flowers occur in clusters, and emerge from a specialized leaf known as a bract. The flowers produce relatively large amounts of nectar, and are insect pollinated. The ripe fruits are grey, hard, and nut-like, and each contains one or several seeds.
Mature basswood trees issue sprouts from their roots, which develop as shoots around the tree. In addition, after a mature basswood tree is harvested, numerous sprouts arise from the surviving roots and stump, and these can develop into a new tree.
Basswoods produce a relatively light, clear, strong, and durable wood that can be used as lumber to manufacture boxes and crates, furniture, picture frames, and for carving. Basswood honey is another economic product, as is a herbal tea made from the dried flowers. North American species of basswood and the related European linden (Tilia cordata) are commonly planted as shade trees in residential areas of towns and cities.
Four species of basswood are native to North America. The most widely distributed species is the American basswood (Tilia americana), a tree of temperate, hardwood forests of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. This is a relatively tall-growing species, which can reach a height of up to 82 ft (25 m). The leaves of this species are largest in relatively shaded parts of the crown, where they can achieve a length of more than 7.8 in (20 cm) and a width of 3.9 in (10 cm).
The white basswood (T. heterophylla) occurs in the eastern United States, while the ranges of the Carolina basswood (T. caroliniana) and Florida basswood (T. floridana) are the southeastern coastal plain of the United States.