A modern reference to temperate woody plants, including updated content from this site and much new material, can be found at Trees and Shrubs Online.




Common names

Lime or Linden

A genus of about thirty species of large or medium-sized, deciduous trees, with more or less zigzagged young shoots; winter buds prominent. The inner bark is tough and fibrous, and that of some species is used for making rough ropes and mats. Leaves alternate, but set in two opposite rows on the branches, toothed, usually heart-shaped at the base. Flowers produced in summer on the shoots of the current year, in axillary, slender, long-stalked cymes. One of the most characteristic features of the genus is the large membranous bract, several inches long, to whose midrib the lower part (sometimes more than half) of the main flower-stalk is united, thus giving it the appearance of rising directly from the centre of the bract. The bract may reach to the base of the peduncle, and is then said to be sessile, or it may end some way above the base, and is then said to be stalked. In some Chinese species, not yet introduced, the bract is almost free from the peduncle. The flowers are very uniform in the limes, and help little to differentiate species. They are fragrant, 58 to 34 in. across, dull white or yellowish white. Sepals and petals five. In most species petal-like scales (staminodes) are present in the flowers, opposite the petals, but these are lacking in T. platyphyllos and its allies, and usually in T. cordata. The fruits are nut-like, with up to three seeds, with a thick or thinnish, downy, ribbed or smooth shell.

The limes belong to the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, but do not occur in western N. America nor in the Himalaya. Mostly they thrive well in gardens, preferring a rich moist soil. The American species are not of much account with us, and the Asiatic species are uncommon in Britain, even in collections, which is surprising, for some, such as T. insularis, T. oliveri and T. tuan are beautiful trees of moderate size.

The limes provide excellent pasture for hive-bees, and a mixed planting would provide it over a period of some two months. Further investigation is needed concerning the toxicity to bees of the flowers of T. tomentosa and T. ‘Petiolaris’, but it seems that bumble-bees rather than hive-bees are affected. For limes as bee-pasture see the interesting article by Dr R. Melville of Kew in Kew Bulletin 1949, pp. 147-51.

There is no modern monograph on the genus Tilia but the American species have been treated by George N. Jones in Taxonomy of American Species of Linden (Tilia), Illinois Biological Monographs 39 (1968). This work reduces to three the fifteen species recognised by Sargent in the second edition of his Manual of the Trees of North America.

As with all forest trees, the limes should, if possible, be raised from seed. Failing that, they may be raised from layers, or, in the case of named varieties, by grafts. Grafted plants, however, frequently make very unshapely trees. The graft is taken, as a rule, from side branches, with the distichous (or two-ranked) arrangement alluded to above. The leading shoot often retains this character for many years, and shows a tendency to grow horizontally rather than erect. Often, too, the stock grows in thickness less quickly than the scion, or vice versa, with the result that there is formed an unsightly break in the trunk.

There has been considerable confusion in gardens over the nomenclature of the limes, largely due to a great number of hybrid or intermediate types. They interbreed with great facility under brighter skies than ours.

Species articles