The Small leaved lime tree. Tilia cordata

Lime trees belong to the Family Malvaceae, formerly belonging to the Family Tiliaceae, and placed in the genus Tilia.

In Britain there are two native species-the small leaved lime and the large leaved lime Tilia platyphyllos. The genus Tilia consists of about 30 species of trees native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia and north America. Here in the UK, they are simply referred to as Lime trees while in north America they are referred to as the LInden tree and sometimes as Basswood.

The tree is not related in any way to the citrus fruit also known as lime, which is the species Citrus aurantifolia of the Family Rutaceae. The small leaved lime,Tilia cordata, is a native tree which grows in England as far north as Durham in Northumberland.{N.E. England.}



Stand of lime trees

photograph by Dal.

Description of Tilia cordata.

The trunk, often forking above has a smooth grey bark, which may over the years break into shallow plates. The canopy is tall and irregularly domed, older trees have downward arching branches with burs and shoots especially at the base of the trunk. It coppices well and has been worked in some regions of the country.

Young blackbird fledgling sheltering in the shoots at the base of a lime trunk.

Photograph by Dal.

The foliage of this species as the species name suggests are somewhat heart shaped, much smaller than other species of lime. They are 4-7 cm long and 3.5cm broad. they are dark shiny green above and paler below with large tufts of orange hairs in the leaf axils. They are arranged alternately. The leaf ends in a sharp point, the margins are toothed. They are smooth with no hairs , unlike those of the large leaved lime T. platyphyllus.

The five petalled, sweet smelling flowers are grouped in four to ten on a long stalk, with a linear, green, leaf like bract attached. The individual yellow-white flowers are 10-12mm wide and appear in July. The flowers are a good source of nectar for many species of insects.

The fruit is a round ,smooth, hairless vessel, which is dispersed together with the leafy bracts in October.

Trees may well attain a magnificent size, but in essence start their lives in the manner of the smallest weed. That is to say they germinate from seeds by breaking the case of the vessel. One shoot goes downward into the earth while another grows directly towards the light.

Some mature trees have developed to regenerate themselves by means of spreading roots. These roots grow buds and then these buds will grow upwards, elms and poplars are such examples. Others in the manner of the bramble will produce branches that touch the ground and the buds will produce roots, and a new tree will commence life. 

the buds that hold the leaf and flowers have already formed by the autumn and abide through the winter protected by the frost resistant outer covering. { these outer coverings often have a viscid nature}.

The lime tree was thought to be the dominant tree through out much of England  before the English oak. However, when man introduced cattle and other grazing animals the seedlings which are rich in nutrients were often eaten which stopped a lot of natural regeneration, and other less palatable species such as the oak became established.

The lime tree is widely grown as an ornamental tree; in the 17 and 18th centuries they were planted to form avenues to compliment landscaped gardens. The wood is warp resistant and is often used to make keys and sounding boards of piano's and organs. The wood is very soft  and evenly grained, ideal for carving.


Lime tree in a suburban setting-Photograph by Dal

Lime tree and medicine.

It is the scented flowers that are utilised in herbal medicine. They are usually prepared in the form of herbal teas, a drink that is very popular in Europe and in particular France. Lime flower tea is very pleasant to taste;it is used in colds, coughs, fevers, infections, inflammations, high blood pressure, headaches {particularly migraine} as a diuretic and a sedative.

The flowers are put to good use in bath water  as a relaxant. The leaves are employed to promote sweating to reduce fevers. The flowers are commonly employed to alleviate anxiety, colds, and sore throats. They are considered to be demulcent, diaphoretic, nervine and sedative. Afflictions are treated by preparations made from the flowers that have been dried in the shade. Mucilage , a component of the flowers, helps the tea to put a light coating on the throat  which helps to soothe irritation. 

Honey produced from the flowers is regarded as being the finest honey in the world for flavour and is used extensively in medicine.

The wood in the form of charcoal in various preparations was used to treat liver and gall bladder disorders.

If you are trying herbal medicine for the first time you are well advised to click on Wild Herb Advise on the right hand side of this page. 

Lime tree fading flowers and the forming fruits. Photograph by Dal.

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