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Tilia tomentosa.jpg
Tilia tomentosa, cultivated at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago
Scientific classification

About 30

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"Lime tree" redirects here. For the citrus fruit trees, see Lime (fruit).
Tilia tomentosa.jpg
Tilia tomentosa, cultivated at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago
Scientific classification

About 30

Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Commonly called lime trees in the British Isles, they are not closely related to the lime fruit. Other names include linden and basswood. The genus occurs in Europe and eastern North America, but the greatest species diversity is found in Asia. Under the Cronquist classification system, this genus was placed in the family Tiliaceae, but genetic research by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group has resulted in the incorporation of this genus into the Malvaceae.

Tilia species are mostly large, deciduous trees, reaching typically 20 to 40 metres (66 to 130 ft) tall, with oblique-cordate leaves 6 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) across. As with elms, the exact number of species is uncertain, as many if not most of the species will hybridise readily, both in the wild and in cultivation. Limes are hermaphroditic, having perfect flowers with both male and female parts, pollinated by insects.


The genus is generally called lime or linden in Britain[1] and linden, lime, or basswood in North America.[2]

"Lime" is an altered form of Middle English lind, in the 16th century also line, from Old English feminine lind or linde, Proto-Germanic *lendā, cognate to Latin lentus "flexible" and Sanskrit latā "liana". Within Germanic languages, English "lithe", German lind "lenient, yielding" are from the same root.

"Linden" was originally the adjective, "made from lime-wood" (equivalent to "wooden"); from the late 16th century, "linden" was also used as a noun, probably influenced by translations of German romance, as an adoption of Linden, the plural of German Linde.[3] Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit called "lime" (Citrus aurantifolia, family Rutaceae). Another common name used in North America is basswood, derived from bast, the name for the inner bark (see Uses, below). Teil is an old name for the lime tree.

Latin tilia is cognate to Greek πτελέᾱ, ptelea, "elm tree", τιλίαι, tiliai, "black poplar" (Hes.), ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European word *ptel-ei̯ā with a meaning of "broad" (feminine); perhaps "broad-leaved" or similar.[4]


Lime nail galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes tiliae

The Tilia's sturdy trunk stands like a pillar and the branches divide and subdivide into numerous ramifications on which the twigs are fine and thick. In summer, these are profusely clothed with large leaves and the result is a dense head of abundant foliage.[5]

The leaves of all the Tilia species are heart-shaped and most are asymmetrical, and the tiny fruit, looking like peas, always hang attached to a ribbon-like, greenish-yellow bract, whose use seems to be to launch the ripened seed-clusters just a little beyond the parent tree. The flowers of the European and American Tilia species are similar, except the American bears a petal-like scale among its stamens and the European varieties are devoid of these appendages. All of the Tilia species may be propagated by cuttings and grafting, as well as by seed. They grow rapidly in rich soil, but are subject to the attack of many insects. Tilia is notoriously difficult to propagate from seed unless collected fresh in the fall. If allowed to dry, the seeds will go into a deep dormancy and take 18 months to germinate.[5]

In particular, aphids are attracted by the rich supply of sap, and are in turn often "farmed" by ants for the production of the sap which the ants collect for their own use, and the result can often be a dripping of excess sap onto the lower branches and leaves, and anything else below. Cars left under the trees can quickly become coated with a film of the syrup ("honeydew") thus dropped from higher up. The ant/aphid "farming" process does not appear to cause any serious damage to the trees.

Leaf of common lime (Tilia × europaea) showing venation 
Tilia flowers 
Tilia fruit 
The venation within a Tilia bract 
Leaves and trunk 


Bole of an ancient Tilia at Frankenbrunn, near Bad Kissingen, Bavaria
T. johnsoni leaf fossil, 49 Ma, Washington, USA

In Europe, linden trees are known to have reached ages measured in centuries, if not longer. A coppice of T. cordata in Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, for example, is estimated to be 2,000 years old.[1] In the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg is a Tilia which tradition says was planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of Henry II of Germany. This would make the tree about 900 years old in 1900 when it was described. It looks ancient and infirm, but in 1900 was sending forth a few leaves on its two or three remaining branches and was, of course, cared for tenderly. The Tilia of Neuenstadt am Kocher in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, was computed to be 1000 years old when it fell.[5] The Alte Linde tree of Naters, Switzerland, is mentioned in a document in 1357 and described by the writer at that time as already magnam (huge). A plaque at its foot mentions that in 1155 a linden tree was already on this spot.


The linden is recommended as an ornamental tree when a mass of foliage or a deep shade is desired.[5] The tree produces fragrant and nectar-producing flowers, the medicinal herb lime blossom. They are very important honey plants for beekeepers, producing a very pale but richly flavoured monofloral honey. The flowers are also used for herbal teas and tinctures; this kind of use is particularly popular in Europe and also used in North American herbal medicine practices.


Limewood Saint George by Tilman Riemenschneider, circa 1490

The timber of linden trees is soft and easily worked; it has very little grain and a density of 560 kg per cubic metre.[7] During the Viking era, it was often used for constructing shields. It is a popular wood for model building and intricate carving. Especially in Germany, it was the classic wood for sculpture from the Middle Ages onwards and is the material for the elaborate altarpieces of Veit Stoss, Tilman Riemenschneider, and many others. In England, it was the favoured medium of the sculptor Grinling Gibbons.[8] The wood is used in marionette, puppet making and carving. Having a fine light grain and being comparatively light in weight, it has been used for centuries for this purpose despite modern alternatives being available, and is still one of the main materials used today.

Ease of working and good acoustic properties also make it popular for electric guitar and bass bodies and wind instruments such as recorders. In the past, it was typically used (along with Agathis) for less-expensive models. However, due to its better resonance at middle and high frequencies,[citation needed] and better sustain than alder,[citation needed] it is now more commonly used in the "superstrat" type of guitar.[citation needed] It can also be used for the neck because of its excellent material integrity when bent and ability to produce consistent tone without any dead spots, according to Parker Guitars.[9] In the percussion industry, Tilia is sometimes used as a material for drum shells, both to enhance their sound and their aesthetics.

Lime wood is known in the aquarium industry for its use as an air diffuser inside protein skimmers. Air pumped through the grain of the wood turns into consistently very fine bubbles (0.5-1.0 mm), difficult to achieve with any other natural or man-made medium. However, the wood decomposes underwater much faster than ceramic air stones and must be replaced more frequently for maximum efficiency.

It is also the wood of choice for window blinds and shutters. Real wood blinds are often made from this lightweight but strong and stable wood, which is well suited to natural and stained finishes.


It is known in the trade as basswood, particularly in North America. This name originates from the inner fibrous bark of the tree, known as bast. A strong[10] fibre is obtained from this by peeling off the bark and soaking it in water for a month, after which the inner fibres can be easily separated. Bast obtained from the inside of the bark of the Tilia tree has been used by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, the attus. Similar fibres obtained from other plants are also called bast: see Bast fibre.


Most medicinal research has focused on Tilia cordata,[citation needed] although other species are also used medicinally and somewhat interchangeably. The dried flowers are mildly sweet and sticky, and the fruit is somewhat sweet and mucilaginous. Limeflower tea has a pleasing taste, due to the aromatic volatile oil found in the flowers. The flowers, leaves, wood, and charcoal (obtained from the wood) are used for medicinal purposes. Active ingredients in the Tilia flowers include flavonoids (which act as antioxidants) and volatile oils. The plant also contains tannins that can act as an astringent.[11]

Linden flowers are used in herbalism for colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache (particularly migraine), and as a diuretic (increases urine production), antispasmodic (reduces smooth muscle spasm along the digestive tract), and sedative.[12] In the traditional Austrian medicine Tilia sp. flowers have been used internally as tea for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, fever and flu.[13] New evidence shows that the flowers may be hepatoprotective.[14] The wood is used for liver and gallbladder disorders and cellulitis (inflammation of the skin and surrounding soft tissue). That wood burned to charcoal is ingested to treat intestinal disorders and used topically to treat edema or infection such as cellulitis or ulcers of the lower leg.[11]

Usually, the double-flowered species are used to make perfumes. The leaf buds and young leaves are also edible raw. Tilia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera; see List of Lepidoptera that feed on Tilia.


The following list comprises those most widely accepted as species, hybrids, and cultivars.


Hybrids and cultivars[edit]

Cultural significance[edit]

Slavic mythology[edit]

In old Slavic mythology, the linden (lipa, as called in all Slavic languages) was considered a sacred tree.[15] Particularly in Poland, many villages have a name "Święta Lipka" (or similar), which literally means "Holy Lime". To this day, the tree is a national emblem of Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and the Sorbs.[citation needed] Lipa gave name to the traditional Slavic name for the month of June (Croatian, lipanj) or July (Polish, lipiec, Ukrainian "lypen'/липень"). It is also the root for the German city of Leipzig, taken from the Sorbian name lipsk.[16] The Croatian currency, kuna, consists of 100 lipa (Tilia). "Lipa" was also a proposed name for Slovenian currency in 1990, however the name "tolar" ultimately prevailed.[17] In the Slavic Orthodox Christian world, limewood was the preferred wood for panel icon painting. The icons by the hand of Andrei Rublev, including the Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), and The Savior, now in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, are painted on linden wood. Its wood was chosen for its ability to be sanded very smooth and for its resistance to warping once seasoned. The southern Slovenian village of "Lipica" signifies little Lime tree and has given its name to the Lipizzan horse breed.[18]

Germanic mythology[edit]

Avenue with linden in the cemetery by Ringkøbing, Jutland, Denmark.

The linden was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.

Originally, local communities assembled not only to celebrate and dance under a linden tree, but to hold their judicial thing meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth. Thus the tree became associated with jurisprudence even after Christianization, such as in the case of the Gerichtslinde, and verdicts in rural Germany were frequently returned sub tilia (under the linden) until the Age of Enlightenment.

In the Nibelungenlied, a medieval German work ultimately based on oral tradition recounting events amongst the Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries, Siegfried gains his invulnerability by bathing in the blood of a dragon. While he did so, a single linden leaf sticks to him, leaving a spot on his body untouched by the blood and he thus has a single point of vulnerability.

The most notable street in Berlin, Germany is called Unter den Linden, named after the trees lining the avenue. In German folklore, the linden tree is the "tree of lovers." See the famous Middle High German poem below.

Hohenlinden (translated as "High linden") is a community in the upper Barvarian district of Ebersberg in which the Battle of Hohenlinden took place; Thomas Campbell wrote the poem Hohenlinden about said battle.

Greek mythology[edit]

Homer, Horace, Virgil, and Pliny mention the linden tree and its virtues. As Ovid tells the old story of Baucis and Philemon, she was changed into a linden and he into an oak when the time came for them both to die.

Herodotus says:[5]

The Scythian diviners take also the leaf of the linden tree, which, dividing into three parts, they twine round their fingers; they then unbind it and exercise the art to which they pretend.

Romantic symbol[edit]

A mediaeval love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170–c. 1230) starts with a reference to the tree:

Under der linden

an der heide,

dâ unser zweier bette was,

dâ mugt ir vinden

schône beide

gebrochen bluomen unde gras.

vor dem wald in einem tal,


schône sanc diu nahtegal.

Under the linden

on the heath,

where we two had our bed,

you still can see

lovely both

broken flowers and grass.

On the edge of the woods in a vale,


sweetly sang the nightingale.

Linden trees play a significant motif in a number of poems written by Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. An excerpt from his poem Mai am un singur dor (One Wish Alone Have I):

Pătrunză talangaWhile softly rings
Al serii rece vânt,The evening's cool wind
Deasupră-mi teiul sfântAbove me the holy Tilia
Să-şi scuture creanga.Shakes its branch.
— translation: M.G.Jiva

In 1979, linden trees were featured in the song Gelato al Cioccolato on the album of the same name by Italian singer-songwriter Enzo Ghinazzi, also known as Pupo.

In 2003, linden trees were featured in the popular song "Dragostea Din Tei" ("Love from linden Trees") by the Moldovan band O-Zone.

The tree also has cultural and spiritual significance in Hungary, where it is called hárs (fa).

Literary references[edit]

Though it’s another year,

Though it’s another me,
Under the rose is a drying tear,
Under my linden tree…
Love never goes away,
Not if it’s really true,
It can return by night, by day,
Tender and green and new
As the leaves from a linden tree, love,

That I left with you.

"...someone had planted a lime tree next to it, which might already have been four years old, already thick; an undeniable symbol of resurrection." [19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Lesley (ed.). 2002. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, A–M. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 1600.
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. 2000. Electronic version 2.5. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.
  3. ^ OED
  4. ^ IEW
  5. ^ a b c d e f Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 24–31. 
  6. ^ "Honey". 9th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 22, 2011. "…honey most esteemed by the ancients was that of Mount Hybla in Sicily…" 
  7. ^ Lime timber. Niche Timbers. Accessed 19-08-2009.
  8. ^ "Hampton Court Palace: Grinling Gibbons". Hrp.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  9. ^ Wood and Tone. Parker Guitars. Accessed 13-08-2013.
  10. ^ Kallio, Edwin; Richard M. Godman (1973). American Basswood... an American Wood. US Forest Service. p. 5. 
  11. ^ a b Bradley P., ed. (1992). British Herbal Compendium. Vol. 1: 142–144. British Herbal Medicine Association, Dorset (Great Britain)
  12. ^ Coleta, M., Campos, M. G., Cotrim, M. D., et al. (2001). Comparative evaluation of Melissa officinalis L., Tilia europaea L., Passiflora edulis Sims. and Hypericum perforatum L. in the elevated plus maze anxiety test. Pharmacopsychiatry 34 (suppl 1): S20–1
  13. ^ Vogl S, Picker P, Mihaly-Bison J, Fakhrudin N, Atanasov AG, Heiss EH, Wawrosch C, Reznicek G, Dirsch VM, Saukel J, Kopp B. Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine - An unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs. J Ethnopharmacol.2013 Jun13. doi:pii: S0378-8741(13)00410-8. 10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID 23770053. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23770053
  14. ^ Matsuda. H., Ninomiya, K., Shimoda, H., & Yoshikawa, M. (2002). Hepatoprotective principles from the flowers of Tilia argentea (linden): structure requirements of tiliroside and mechanisms of action. Bioorg Med Chem. 10 (30): 707–712.
  15. ^ Archaeology and Language: Language change and cultural transformation Roger Blench, Matthew Spriggs, p.199
  16. ^ Hanswilhelm Haefs. Das 2. Handbuch des nutzlosen Wissens. ISBN 3-8311-3754-4 (German)
  17. ^ See Slovenska lipa
  18. ^ Snoj, Marko. 2009. Etimološki slovar slovenskih zemljepisnih imen. Ljubljana: Modrijan and Založba ZRC, pp. 234–235.
  19. ^ "The Man Who Planted Trees - Wikisource, the free online library". En.wikisource.org. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 

External links[edit]