Tree to 30 m, dbh 1.5 m. Bark dark grey; wide flat-topped ridges develop in maturity. Twigs densely covered in grey and red-brown stellate hairs. Buds with one main scale and another just visible, with brown and grey tomentum. Leaves 7.5–12.5 × 7–12 cm, suborbicular, on stalks with white stellate hairs; dark green above, grey-green beneath with moderately sparse stellate hairs (4–12 arms, 8 being the commonest number); almost glabrous in some trees (var. yesoana); tufts of brown axillary hairs are usually visible. Marginal teeth long, triangular, with short apiculate tips (0.2–1 mm). Floral bracts 7.5–12.5 × 1.1–2.5 cm, with dense white hairs on their veins. Inflorescence drooping, with 15–20 flowers. Flowers cup-shaped, strongly scented; staminodes present. Fruit rounded, 9–10 × 7–8 mm, weakly ribbed, mamillate; fruit-wall tomentose and quite fragile (Pigott 2012).
Distribution Japan Hokkaido; N Honshu
Habitat Mountain woodlands
USDA Hardiness Zone 5
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
In the wild in Northern Japan this widespread member of Section Astrophilyra experiences year round precipitation, with cold, snowy winters and warm, rainy summers. It appears closely related to the mainland Tilia mandshurica, and can be most reliably distinguished from it by the leaf margin teeth. In T. maximowicziana they are long and triangular, with short tips, separated by narrow sinuses; in T. mandshurica they are shorter and broader, with long, stout tips, and are separated by more open sinuses (Pigott 2012). It forms a medium to large tree with broad, dark green leaves and highly fragrant flowers. Nick Macer claims it as ‘the Tilia of choice for beekeepers in the know’ (Pan-Global Plants 2020).
Tilia maximowicziana was first introduced to Kew from the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts, in 1890 (Bean 1981); there have been various subsequent introductions. It has grown well across the British Isles, where most specimens show a beautifully grey-felted underleaf; this represents the downy extreme of widely varying hairiness amongst wild plants (Pigott 2012). Contemporary specimens include a parkland tree at Hergest Croft, Herefordshire, 19 m, dbh 72 cm in 2013; a planting from the 1950s arboretum at Bute Park, Cardiff, which was 22 m, dbh 67 cm in 2013; and one of 23 m, dbh 56 cm in Glasnevin National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, in 2012 (Tree Register 2018). A crowded but otherwise happy woodland tree 13 m tall was growing as far north as the Tannadyce Estate, Angus in 2018 (Tree Register 2018).
The naturalist and collector Sir Henry Elwes raised specimens, which were almost hairless, at least when young, from seed sent to Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire in 1905 by the Tokyo botanist Yasuyoshi Shirasawa (Elwes & Henry 1913), but none survive. The name var. yesoana (Nakai) Tatewaki has sometimes been applied to less pubescent forms, with leaves green beneath (Bean 1981), although Ohwi (1965) notes that this may be merely a juvenile form, and Pigott (2012) ignores the name entirely.
In Sweden the species is established from a 1952 wild introduction at Gothenburg Botanical Garden (Gothenburg Botanical Garden 2020). In Belgium specimens are recorded at the Arboretum Wespelaar (1994 accession, wild origin – Arboretum Wespelaar 2020) and at Meise Botanic Garden (received 1973, from cultivation at the Villa Taranto, Italy – Meise Botanic Garden 2020).
This species appears vanishingly rare in North American collections. Two specimens survive at the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts, both vegetatively propagated in 1993 from a now-lost tree, a 1905 collection made in Hokkaido by J.G. Jack. The larger of these had reached 44 cm basal diameter in 2019. Present day arboretum records show no trace of the 19th century introduction mentioned above (Arnold Arboretum 2020).