Tilia, also known as the common lime in Great Britain, or linden or basswood in North America, is found in Europe, Asia, and the eastern part of North America.
Common lime trees are deciduous trees that grow up to 120 to 130 feet tall. Their lower branches arch. This trait has led it to be planted in avenue-style on estates, streets and in gardens.
The leaves of the common lime are alternate and heart-shaped with an elongated tip. Each leaf is between four to seven inches wide. On the underside of the leaves, are tufts of white hair at the junction of the veins, while the top remains hairless and dark green. The edges of the leaves have small serrations. There can be blisters on some leaves. These are made by sap-sucking insects, like aphids.
When in bloom, the common lime’s flowers hang in groups of four to ten, on long stems. They also have a linear, green bract above them. The flowers are sweetly aromatic and are yellowish to dull white. The blossoms have five petals and are about one half inch wide. The common lime blooms in July.
Following the bloom, the common lime bears fruit. The fruit is round, slightly ribbed and has hair. The size is most like a garden pea and they hang from a green bract which is ribbon-shaped. The fruit, plus bract, travel away from the tree, via wind, in October.
In Britain, the common lime is the tallest broad-leaf tree. Originally these trees were found throughout Europe in old growth forests. There are none of these original forests around today. However, due to the planting of the common lime by individuals, it can be found in a variety of locations. It is enjoyed for the beauty of its branches and the longevity of the tree. A common lime tree, generally, can live up to 500 years.
The bark of the common lime starts off as a grey, smooth bark when the tree is young. As it matures, the color changes to a brownish-grey and perpendicular shallow cracks appear. The inner bark of the common lime is called bast or bass and is used in the manufacture of mats, ropes and baskets.
Common lime trees have smooth, close-grained white wood. It is light, which makes it a great choice for items that do not require strength. The wood has been used for piano’s sounding boards and for carvings. Artist’s charcoal is also made from this wood. Other uses include fuel, cups, ladles, bowls, bean-sticks, and morris dancing sticks. The leaves of the common lime are used as livestock fodder. During World War II, the blossoms were used in tea as a mild sedative. The fruits are edible and have a taste similar to cocoa.
Folklore from the Dark Ages places the common lime as a female tree and says it is linked with fertility. When areas of France and Switzerland began planting the trees at sites of battles which helped free them, the trees became symbolic of freedom.
There are records of some common lime trees with extraordinary life spans. In Gloucestershire, in Westonbirt Arboretum there is one that is thought to be at least 2000 years old. There is another at Nuremberg at the Imperial Castle’s courtyard that was dated back 900 years in 1900. It still has a few branches that leaf-out every year.
Whether desire of this tree is due to its graceful, arching branches, or its longevity or other reasons, this tree is a wonderful addition to almost any setting.