Tree a Week: Lime

Characteristics and Interesting Facts

  • Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of large, deciduous trees, or bushes, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, reaching typically 20 to 40 metres tall.
  • In the British Isles they are commonly called lime trees, or lime bushes, although they are not closely related to the tree that produces the lime fruit. Other names include linden for the European species, and basswood for North American species.
  • A coppiced lime in Gloucestershire is estimated to be 2000 years old.
Distribution of lime trees in Europe

Uses

  • They are very important honey plants for beekeepers, producing a very pale but richly flavoured monofloral honey.
  • Linden trees produce low density soft timber with very little grain and is a popular wood for model building and for intricate carving.
  • The flowers, leaves, wood, and charcoal are used for medicinal purposes. Active ingredients in the Tilia flowers include flavonoids (which act as antioxidants) and volatile oils. New evidence shows that the flowers may be hepatoprotective.
  • The leaf buds and young leaves are edible raw in salads.
  • The wood does not warp and is still used today to make sounding boards and piano keys.
  • Limes can be coppiced and used for fuel.
  • A strong fibre, known as bast, is obtained from the tree by peeling off the bark and soaking it in water for a month, after which the inner fibres can be easily separated. Bast has been used by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, the attus. Recent excavations in Britain have shown that lime tree fibre was used for clothing during the Bronze Age.  It was also used to make ropes.

Identification

Leaves: The leaves of all the Tilia species are heart-shaped, most are asymmetrical and dark green in colour, measuring 6–10cm in length. They have a lobed leaf base and tufts of white hairs in vein axils, and fade to a dull yellow before falling in autumn.

Bark: The bark is pale grey-brown and irregularly ridged, with characteristic large burrs and leaf shoots at the base of the tree.

Flowers: The tree produces fragrant and nectar-producing flowers and are hermaphrodite, meaning both the male and female reproductive parts are contained within one flower. Flowers are white-yellow, five-petalled and hang in clusters of 2-5 and have a drooping habit.

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Further Reading

I first ate the young leaves of a fairly vigorously cut and managed lime at a forest garden created by Martin Crawford. It was the first time I came across the idea of managing a tree as an easy, tasty perennial salad bush and I’ll certainly be utilising it when I find my own plot of land. It’s a great idea to visit his forest but if you can’t, you can still find out all about it through this book.

For other books on the subject, watch my permaculture teacher Aranya talk through a few of his favourite books.

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