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Tilia americana L.

American Lime, American Basswood

Modern name

Tilia americana L.


T. glabra Vent.; T. canadensis Michx.; T. nigra Borkh.

A tree up to 70 or 90 ft in the wild (rarely to 130 ft) and 6 to 9 ft in girth (rarely to 15 ft); bark smooth and grey on young trees, becoming thick and furrowed; twigs glabrous and glossy, becoming dark brown; winter-buds glabrous, ovoid or broadly ellipsoid, with two or three outer scales. Leaves roundish ovate, abruptly acuminate at the apex, heart-shaped or sometimes truncate at the base, 214 to 6 in. long, almost as wide, coarsely toothed, dark green and glabrous above, usually quite glabrous beneath even when young, except for minute tufts of down in the axils (but the leaves of basal sprouts are downy beneath, at least on the veins); petioles glabrous, 112 to 3 in. long. Flowers in pendulous cymes, yellowish white, 12 in. or slightly more wide, opening around midsummer; pedicels glabrous. Floral bracts spathulate, 3 to 4 in. long. Sepals lanceolate, acuminate, slightly downy on the outside, more densely so within. Petals 14 to 38 in. long, about one-third as wide. Staminodes present, slightly shorter than the petals. Fruits woody, 38 in. or slightly less wide, downy.

Native of northeastern and east-central N. America, from New Brunswick and Maine west to southern Manitoba and North Dakota, south to New Jersey, North Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri. In the United States it is a valuable timber tree and attains a large size on deep, moist soils. Like many limes, it has the ability to regenerate by sprouts, and often these spring up around the base of aged standing trees. It has been cultivated in Britain since the middle of the 18th century, but it is not one of the first-rate limes in this country, being apt to die back when young and not flowering so freely with us as on the continent. In its normal state it is easily distinguished from T. heterophylla by the glabrous leaves, glossy beneath.

Examples of T. americana measured recently are: Grayswood Hill, Surrey, 75 × 8 ft (1976); Westonbirt, Glos., in Willesley Drive, 77 × 512 ft (1974); Kinfauns Castle, Perthshire, 66 × 6 ft (1970).

cv. ‘Dentata’. – A vigorous tree said to attain 100 ft in Germany, with a rounded crown when old. Leaves up to 8 in. long, deeply toothed (T. longifolia dentata Hort. ex Kirchn.; T. americana f. dentata (Kirchn.) Rehd.). A similar form is offered by some Dutch and German nurseries as T. americana ‘Nova’.

cv. ‘Fastigiata’. – A fastigiate form selected in the Rochester Parks, New York, about 1927.

var. vestita (Döll) V. Engler T. nigra var. vestita Döll; ?T. neglecta Spach; T. pubescens sens. Hook. and other authors, not Ait.; T. americana var. pubescens Dipp., not Loud.; T. michauxii sens. Sarg. in Manual, Ed. 1, not Nutt. – Typically, T. americana has the leaves glabrous beneath except on strong sterile shoots. But some trees, especially towards the northern end of its range, have the leaves on flowering shoots sparsely clad beneath with simple or few-branched hairs.

The name T. neglecta occurs frequently in the literature of American limes. According to G. N. Jones, some herbarium specimens so identified are this downy-leaved state of T. americana or are sprout-shoots of the normal state. T. neglecta, as understood by Sargent in the second edition of his Manual is, however, T. caroliniana. The name has also been used for the sparsely indumented state of T. heterophylla. The confused use of the name T. neglecta arises from the fact that Spach described this species from a tree growing in the garden of the Paris Museum in 1834, and that there is no type-specimen at Paris. A probably authentic specimen of T. neglecta preserved in the Kew Hervarium suggests that the last-mentioned judgement is correct.

The name T. michauxii Nutt. has also been used in differing senses. The lime so named by Nuttall was a sparsely indumented form of T. heterophylla. But T. michauxii of the first edition of Sargent’s Manual, which was the one current when the present work was originally published, was T. americana var. vestita.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Kew, near Flagstaff, 54 × 534 ft (1980); Syon House, London, 60 × 434 ft (1982); Winkworth Arboretum, Godalming, Surrey, 60 × 414 ft (1983);Grayswood Hill, Haslemere, Surrey, 75 × 8 ft (1976); Nymans, Sussex, Arboretum, 59 × 412 ft and (var. vestita), 92 × 612 ft (1985); Oare House, Pewsey, Wilts., pl. c. 1920, 66 × 312 ft (1984); Westonbirt, Glos., Willesley Drive, 77 × 512 ft (1974); Calderstones Park, Liverpool, in Avenue, 50 × 412 ft (1984); Dawyck, Peebl., below Sawmill Brae, 60 × 4 ft (1982).



Other species in the genus