Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc’ Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea

Trees & Shrubs – The Lime Trees or Linden Tree Tilia

The Limes are common trees to be found on London streets and in gardens, they take pollarding and pruning well. Also see Lime Pleaching.

Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Commonly called lime trees in the British Isles, they are not closely related to the lime fruit. Other names include linden and basswood. The genus occurs in Europe and eastern North America, but the greatest species diversity is found in Asia. Under the Cronquist classification system, this genus was placed in the family Tiliaceae, but genetic research summarized by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group has resulted in the incorporation of this genus into the Malvaceae.

The RHS Royal Horticultural Society (AGM Award of Garden Merit) list the following as native species;

Tilia cordata AGM (small-leaved lime): 25m, prefers chalky soil

Tilia platyphyllos (large-leaved lime): 30m, prefers chalky soil

Tilia × europaea naturally occurring hybrid.

Tilia species are mostly large, deciduous trees, reaching typically 20 to 40 metres (66 to 130 ft) tall, with oblique-cordate leaves 6 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) across. As with elms, the exact number of species is uncertain, as many if not most of the species will hybridise readily, both in the wild and in cultivation. Limes are hermaphroditic, having perfect flowers with both male and female parts, pollinated by insects.

Listed by London Tree Surgeons under, hardy ornamental flowering trees and shrubs for its ornamental qualities, namely its foliage. The horticulturalist A D Webster also listed the Lime as a hardy ornamental with the following;

TILIA VULGARIS (syns T. europea and T. intermedia).—Lime, or Linden Tree. Europe, Caucasus, and naturalised in Britain. Probably none of the Limes would be included in a list of ornamental-flowering trees and shrubs, still that they are of great interest and beauty even in that state cannot be denied. The common species as well as its numerous varieties have sweetly scented, yellowish-white flowers in terminal cymes, and are, though individually small, highly ornamental when fully developed. Other species of great interest when in flower are T. alba (syn T. argentea), Silver Lime; T. petiolaris, a curious and beautiful species; and T. euchlora.

The various species and varieties of Lime succeed well in almost any class of soil, but rich loam on sand is considered the most suitable for their perfect development.


The Lime (Tilia platyphyllos).

The horticulturalist Edward step had this to say about the Lime tree.

Those persons who obtain their ideas of trees mainly from the specimens they can see in suburban roads and gardens are in danger of getting quite a false impression of the Lime. It is a long suffering, good-tempered tree, and like human individuals of similar temperament, is subjected to shameful treatment. The suburban gardener who has a row of Limes to trim uses the saw, and amputates every arm close up to the shoulder, so that when the season of budding and burgeoning arrives the row of Limes will look like an upward extension in green of the brick wall. Such are the atrocities upon which Suburbia has to base its ideas of one of the most imposing of trees.

lime-tree-summer-300x300 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
The Lime tree in summer

Lime-tree— comparison between summer and winter.

lime-tree-winter-300x300 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
the same Lime tree in winter

The Large-leaved Lime, growing in park-land or meadow, with its roots deep in good light loam, and its head eighty or ninety feet above, is quite another matter. Such a tree is a thing of beauty, and one can stand long at its base looking up among the wide-spreading limbs so well clothed with leaves of fine texture and tint. The girth of such a specimen at four feet from the ground would be about fifteen feet. Larger individuals have been recorded, up to twenty-seven feet. There are three kinds of Lime in general cultivation in this country, but the differences between them are not great. They are the Large-leaved (Tilia platyphyllos), the Small-leaved (T. parvifolia), and the Intermediate or Common Lime (T. vulgaris). The last-named is generally admitted to be an introduced kind, and it is the one most commonly planted. Respecting the claims of the other two to rank as natives, there has been some difference of opinion among authorities. The Small-leaved Lime, which does not occur in woods north of Cumberland, was regarded by Borrer as a true indigene, but H. C. Watson considered its claims as open to doubt, though he had no such doubt of the Large-leaved Lime, which is only growing really wild in the woods of Herefordshire, Radnorshire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire.

lime-tree-leaves-300x237 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
the leaves of the Lime tree


All our Limes have similar straight tall stems, clad in smooth bark, and with a similar habit of growth. They are trees that demand genial climatic conditions for their proper development, and in consequence they do not put forth their leaves until May. The period of their leafy glory is comparatively short, for they are among the trees that lose their leaves earliest in autumn, after having been for a few days transmuted into gold. The leaf of the Lime is heart-shaped, with one of the basal lobes larger than the other, and the edges cut into saw-like teeth. There are slight differences in those of the three species, which will be indicated below. In its floral arrangements the Lime differs from the trees previously mentioned in that it has distinct sepals and petals, an abundance of honey, and strong, sweet fragrance as of Honeysuckle. Unlike them, it does not trust to so rough and ready an agent of fertilization as the wind, so that it waits until its boughs are well clothed with leaves before putting forth its yellowish-white blossoms. These are in clusters (cymes) of six or seven, the stalks of all arising from one very long and stouter stalk, which is attached for half its length to a thin and narrow bract. Individually regarded, the flowers will be found to consist of five sepals, five petals, an oval ovary with a style ending in a five-toothed stigma, and surrounded by a large number of stamens. The stamens discharge their pollen before the stigma of that flower is fitted to receive it, so that cross-fertilization is ensured by the visits of the innumerable bees that visit the flowers for the abundant nectar they contain, and which the bees convert into a first-rate honey. The flowers are succeeded by globose little fruits, each about a quarter of an inch across, yellow, and covered with pale down. In a good season these will be found to contain one or two seeds, but too often in this country the summers are too cool to ripen them. The Lime does not begin to bear until about its thirty-fifth year. It flowers every year thereafter, but the question of its seed-crop depends entirely upon the weather.

lime-tree-flowers-300x198 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
flowers of the Lime tree

Flowers of Lime.

lime-tree-fruits-300x199 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
fruits of the Lime tree

Fruits of Lime.

lime-tree-bole-300x300 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
the bole or trunk of the Lime tree

Bole of Lime.

lime-tree-winter1-300x300 Trees: Lime Trees / Linden inc' Tilia platyphyllos, T cordata, T x europaea
the Lime tree in winter


For the purposes to which large timber is usually put, the light white wood of the Lime is not highly esteemed, not being considered of sufficient durability; yet it serves for many smaller uses, where its lightness and fine grain are strong recommendations. It must not be forgotten that the wonderful carvings of Grinling Gibbons were executed in this wood. It is largely used by the makers of musical instruments; and, as every one knows, it is from the inner bark of the Lime that those useful bast mats, which are imported from Russia in such large numbers, are made. Probably owing to its lightness, again, the wood was used in old times for making bucklers. The question of its value as timber is probably never taken into account when it is planted in this country, where its ornamental appearance as an avenue or shade-tree is its great recommendation. It is one of the long-lived trees, its full life-period being certainly five centuries. Those in St. James’s Park are popularly supposed to have been planted, at the suggestion of John Evelyn, somewhere about the year 1660. There is a fine Lime avenue in Bushey Park, probably planted by Dutch William. Deer and cattle are fond of the foliage and young shoots if they can get at them. Numerous insects exhibit a like partiality; of these the caterpillar of the large and handsome Lime Hawk-moth (Smerinthus tiliæ) is the most characteristic. The differences between the three species may be briefly noted: Small-leaved Lime (Tilia parvifolia). Does not attain the large proportions of the others. Leaves about two inches across, smooth; on the lower surface the axils of the nerves are glaucous and downy, with hairy patches between nerves. Fruit thin-shelled and brittle, downy, and very faintly ribbed. The upper leaves show a tendency to lobing. Large-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos). Bark rougher. Twigs hairy. Leaves larger (four inches) and rougher, downy beneath, axils of the nerves woolly. Fruit of more oval shape, woody and strongly ribbed when ripe. Common Lime (Tilia vulgaris). Intermediate between the others. Leaves larger than those of T. parvifolia, smaller than those of T. platyphyllos; downy in axils beneath. Twigs smooth. Fruit woody, but without ribs. The name Lime was originally Linde, a form which, with the addition of n, is in use to-day. Chaucer and other English writers spell it Line and Lyne, and the transition from this form to that commonly used to-day has been effected by changing the n to m. Originally it meant pliant, and had reference to the useful bast from which cordage and other flexible things were made.

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