Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of lime tree native throughout most of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Lime is a large deciduous species of horticulture towering up to 40 metres in height and there are no citrus fruits growing on it! The Common Lime is frequent in towns and parks with its popularity dating back to the seventeenth-century thus giving it the name now used!
Common Limes (tilias) are broadleaf and deciduous – losing their leaves in autumn – trees with shiny pale green leaves that are flimsy and waxy. Heart-shaped and triangular, the leaves of the lime become a dull yellow in autumn, thus, the leaf bud is small and red, looking a little like a boxing glove.
On the leaf there is a long stalk and the leaf arrangement is alternate with the flowers being a clustered group that blossom in July, thus the fruit ripens changing from green to brown in late summer and the bark is pale, grey-browny in colour with irregular ridges; characteristic large burrs and covered in leaf shoots at the base of the tree, this is the typical appearance of the great many Common Limes seen in parks and nature reserves across the UK.
With slender twigs and brown in colour, the brushwood tends to turn more red in the sun and can easily be confused with the Large Leaved and the Small Leaved, Lime. The Common Lime is native to Britain, though many of these trees are now horticulturally cultivated and would be considered non-native to many scientists.
Tolerating a wide variety of conditions, these trees are often planted in streets, parks or as a landscape tree, thus, the conservation status is actually common too meaning like other limes the tree is not under threat. The Common Lime can be coppiced and the wood is used as fuel, hop-poles, bean-shafts, ladles, bowls and for Morris Dancing sticks!
The leaves of these unmistakable trees were also useful as fodder for livestock and the very young leaves were even part of a tasty sandwich filling many years ago; however, the blossom was regularly used to make a certain type of tea during the war with its mild sedative properties.
Kent County Cricket Club had a famous lime tree for more than 200 years actually inside the boundary. Sadly, in 2005, their tree (which had been in ill health for some time) was knocked over by a strong gust of wind and pieces of the dead tree were sold off to fans. The ground was built around this infamous tree in 1847 and the rules state that if the ball hit Canterbury’s Lime Tree it would count as four runs. Luckily, a replacement tree was planted outside the playing area in 1999 and moved within the boundary to take over from its 200 year old predecessor in anticipation of this fatal event. Apparently, it is in good health – hopefully it will remain that way!
Always remember not to park your car under a lime tree though; the wax can be really awkward to clean off!