Thursday, June 16, 2022

Midsummer limes


So finally the lime trees come into fragrant bloom, leaving it to the time of roses, peonies and grasses: the definitive midsummer tree. 

I love limes, but I hate them too, because in forty years I've never been able to securely tell them apart. 

These ones are from the lakeside park in Warminster.

The one on the left here, at any rate, is Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata): small buds, leaves grey-green and more or less hairless apart from gingery tufts at base of veins on the underside. 

The other two (from different individuals) are both Broad-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos). I'm saying this with more confidence than I really feel. It's true that the young leaves are hairy all over the underside and even on the upperside. On the other hand some of the cymes (like the one on the right) have six buds, an exceptional number for Broad-leaved Lime. Anyway, I'm sticking with that for now. 

Above, Small-leaved Lime, the aforementioned gingery tufts in vein axils. 

Below, another distinguishing feature of Small-leaved lime (left). Looking at the upperside of the leaf, you can see that only the main veins are easily visible. Compare the many little cross-members on the Broad-leaved Lime (right), which are quite deeply impressed. Clive Stace calls them "tertiary veins"; Francis Rose calls them "side-veins". 

Leaf uppersides of Tilia cordata (left) and Tilia platyphyllos (right)

Broad-leaved Lime. Hairy underside of leaf. 

Broad-leaved Lime. Hairy upperside of leaf. Tertiary veins strongly impressed. 

Below, a few shots of Broad-leaved Lime. 


A couple of days later, I collected some samples of Common Lime (Tilia x europaea), the hybrid between Small- and Broad-leaved Limes. Common Lime can grow taller than either of its parents, in fact taller than any other native broad-leaved tree. These samples come from one of the tall trees in North Parade in Frome. 

Along the back, Common Lime. Front centre, Broad-leaved Lime. Front right, Small-leaved Lime.

Common Lime, leaf underside. Most of the leaf surface is hairless. The vein axils have dirty white tufts. There are also stray hairs along the veins. 

Common Lime, leaf upperside. Even here there are a few hairs on the main veins, if you look very closely.

The tertiary veins are more noticeable than on Small-leaved Lime, but less noticeable than on Broad-leaved Lime. 

The lower trunk of a Common Lime, completely hidden by suckers and epicormic sprouts. A pretty common sight. You might see a few sprouts on either of the parent species too, but the hybrid is the most prone.


'Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold,
  Lady! thou leadest me to summer clime,
And I must taste the blossoms that unfold
  In its ripe warmth this gracious morning time.'
So said, his erewhile timid lips grew bold,
  And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme:
Great bliss was with them, and great happiness
Grew, like a lusty flower in June's caress.

Parting they seem'd to tread upon the air,
  Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart
Only to meet again more close, and share
  The inward fragrance of each other's heart.
She to her chamber gone, a ditty fair
  Sang, of delicious love and honey'd dart;
He with light steps went up a western hill,
And bade the sun farewell, and joy'd his fill.

Oh well, I don't need much excuse to quote a bit of Keats' June-drenched poem Isabella. Or this, from Swedish troubadour Evert Taube's song "Rosa på bal":

Tyss, ingen såg att jag kysste Er kind.
Känn hur det doftar från parken av lind,
Blommande linder kring månbelyst stig -
Rosa jag älskar dig!

Shush, so I kissed your cheek in the dark --
Ah, smell that smell of the limes in the park!
Lime-flowers and moonlight in our avenue,
Rosa I do love you!

Happy Midsummer!


Fruits of Broad-leaved Lime (left), Common Lime (centre) and Small-leaved Lime (right). Warminster and Frome, 10 September 2022.

A brief re-visit to the trees, in September, to take a look at the mature fruits. In this photo you can compare their relative sizes.

Fruits of Broad-leaved Lime. Warminster, 10 September 2022.

They are larger than the other two species, and they have 3-5 prominent ribs. 

Fruits of Common Lime. Frome, 10 September 2022.

Intermediate in size between the other two species. The ribs are fairly obscure. 

Fruits of Small-leaved Lime. Warminster, 10 September 2022.

The smallest fruits. Pale lines, but not expressed as ribs. 


In English, as in other Germanic languages, the orginal name for these trees was "lind" (going right back to Anglo-Saxon times). The form "linden" took hold later (first recorded in 1577). The potentially confusing name "lime" is first recorded in 1625 (Francis Bacon). The OED reckons it arose as a corruption of "lind" via the form "line". 

Whatever, today "lime" is very much the everyday name for these trees in Great Britain and Ireland; "linden" is apt to be poetical ("Air-swept lindens yield Their scent" -- Arnold, "The Scholar-Gypsy").  

In other parts of the English-speaking world, however, Tilia species are usually called "linden" or "basswood". 


Another post, about lime trees leafing out in spring:

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