Littleleaf Linden at Longfellow House - Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

The littleleaf linden is a tall tree with leafy branches, standing in a turf lawn
The littleleaf linden in the East Lawn landscape, with steps to the Longfellow house visible on the left and the ornamental garden fence to the right (2020).


Specimen Details

  • Location: Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, Cambridge, MA
  • Species: Littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata)
  • Landscape Use: Specimen tree
  • Age: Approximately 200 years (estimated planting early 1800s)
  • Condition: Fair to poor
  • ID Number: OC-1
  • Measurements: DBH (Diameter at Breast Height): 84”; Height: 82’; Spread: 40’


Providing shade, beauty, and poetical inspiration for the past two centuries, the Longfellow littleleaf linden was likely planted around the turn of the 19th century by Andrew Craigie, just before Longfellow’s acquisition of the property. Among other improvements to the house and grounds during this period, the East Lawn specimen linden became especially appreciated by future residents and visitors.

The tree was beloved by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and it appeared frequently in his journal entries. In the summer of 1844, the Longfellow family returned from vacation to an unwelcome scene at the linden tree. Henry’s multi-day journal entry documents his reaction, as well as his wife Fanny’s reaction, to poor pruning:

Friday 5. When I went out on the bright clear morning of Good Friday, I found that the “Men of Ross”, the Irish workmen, had lopped away the long low branches of my Linden tree, misunderstanding my directions. O day of woe! ... My walk on the Eastern piazza is desecrated! I am wretchedly disturbed, and poor Fanny is in tears and quite heart broken.

Saturday 6. Very sad and remorseful about the Linden tree, whose trailing branches no longer sweep the ground. To forget our sorrow we departed to town.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, April 5 - 6, 1844 (Personal Journal)

The temporarily disfigured tree eventually recovered its splendor and form and continued to be a central point for summer life on the grounds during the Longfellow’s time. Located near the house and casting shade over the northern portion of the East Lawn, it also adds character to the nearby formal gardens.

In 1846, two years after the pruning mishap, Longfellow writes of an idyllic summer day spent under the linden:

Thursday 4. A true summer morning, warm and breezy. Fanny sat under the linden-tree and read to me Heine's poems, while I lay on a hay-cock; and Charley red as a clover blossom, ran to and fro and into all possible mischief. Heine, delicious poet for such an hour! What a charm there is about his Buck der Lieder! Ah, here they would be held by most people as ridiculous. Many poetic souls there are here, and many lovers of song; but life and its ways and ends are prosaic in this country to the last degree.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, June 4, 1846 (Personal Journal)

Watercolor of house with low garden beds in foreground and trees behind, figures standing under tree with platform
Watercolor painted by local Boston artist Vautin for the Longfewllows in 1845, looking across the garden to the back of the house and the tall linden.

NPS / Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site Museum Collection (LONG 4439)

During Longfellow’s time, multiple other lindens were planted along the edge of the garden. In 1843, Fanny Longfellow spoke lovingly of imagining the trees behind the garden becoming “a linden avenue in which my poet intends to pace in his old age & compose under its shade.” Throughout his poetry, Longfellow frequently refers to linden trees, assumed to be inspired by the very lindens that were around his home. None were as grand as the central specimen linden, and that is the only remaining linden tree on the property.

It was common practice during the 1800s to plant a large shade tree near one’s house to provide wayfinding for travelers, and to this day the landmark linden towers over the house and garden, welcoming park visitors to find shade and poetic inspiration under its sweeping branches.

Botanical Details

The littleleaf linden at Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site is in good company, as this species is commonly planted as landscape or street trees. However, littleleaf lindens are sensitive to drought and road salts. The Longfellow linden has likely thrived due to its proximity to one of the dry wells that collects stormwater from the house’s roof.

Black and white photo of curving paths in the formal garden, with the house and tall linden tree in the background.
1940 image of linden towering over house and garden.

NPS / Longfellow House - Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, 3008/003-#024

Labeled map shows the location of the lnden in the Longfellow landscape, in the East Lawn beside the house and formal garden.
Map section from Longfellow House - Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site marking the central location of the littleleaf linden (labeled Tilia) between the house and the formal gardens (2020).


This historic linden is particularly tall for its species, with a height of 82 feet as compared with around 60 feet on average. Littleleaf linden has heart-shaped leaves, the color of which shifts from light green to glossy dark green to yellow over the course of the New England seasons. Its yellow flowers produce small nut-like fruit. The tree grows in a pyramidical to oval shape, offering dense shade below.

Preservation Maintenance

Over the course of its long life, multiple horticultural techniques have been used to preserve this historic and well-loved linden. Careful corrective pruning is the best current practice to preserve the health of this tree and the safety of visitors and structures around it. A 5-year heavy pruning cycle promotes a healthy canopy, while more frequent assessments account for storm damage and incidental pruning needs. If visitors look closely into the tree for clues about past preservation efforts, older methods of tree stabilization are visible include a filled cavity in the trunk at eye level and cables connecting branches up above.

To preserve the Longfellow linden for future generations, the park established a proactive propagation plan in the early 2000s. While the historic linden continues to provide shade, beauty, and stories in its National Historic Site landscape, a genetically propagated replacement tree is growing in a nursery setting. This replacement will return to the park at the appropriate time, continuing the legacy of the Longfellow linden.

Black and white photograph of a tall tree on a lawn with full, leafy branches. Black and white photograph of a tall tree on a lawn with full, leafy branches.

Left image
Black and white image depicting the full foliage of the linden in 1969 .
Credit: Courtesy of Cambridge Plant and Garden Club

Right image
The same perspective as the photo from 1969 shows the linden 35 years later. Downed branches are scattered on the ground as pruning maintenance on the linden is documented mid-work.
Credit: NPS OCLP

Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

Last updated: May 1, 2023