Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, in Asia (where the greatest species diversity is found), Europe and eastern North America; it is not native to western North America. Under the Cronquist classification system, this genus was placed in the family Tiliaceae, but genetic research by the APG has resulted in the incorporation of this family into the Malvaceae. The trees are generally called lime in Britain and linden in parts of Europe and North America (where they are also known as basswood).
Tilia species are large deciduous trees, reaching typically 20–40 m tall, with oblique-cordate leaves 6–20 cm across, and are found through the north temperate regions. The exact number of species is subject to considerable uncertainty, as many or most of the species will hybridise readily, both in the wild and in cultivation.
is an altered form of Middle English lind
, in the 16th century also line
, from Old English feminine lind
, Proto-Germanic *lendā
, cognate to Latin lentus
"flexible" and Sanskrit latā
". Within Germanic, English lithe
, German lind
"lenient, yielding" are from the same root.
Linden was originally the adjective, "made from lime-wood", from the late 16th century also used as a noun, probably influenced by translations of German romance, as an adoption of Linden, the plural of German Linde (OED).
Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit called "lime" (Citrus aurantifolia, family Rutaceae). Another widely-used common name used in North America is Basswood, derived from bast, the name for the inner bark (see Uses, below).
Latin tilia is cognate to Greek πτελέᾱ "elm tree", τιλίαι "black poplar" (Hes.), ultimately from a PIE *ptel-ei̯ā with a meaning of "broad (feminine)", perhaps "broad-leaved" or similar (IEW).
The following list comprises those most widely accepted species.
Hybrids and cultivars
- Tilia × euchlora (T. dasystyla × T. cordata)
- Tilia × europaea Common Lime (T. cordata × T. platyphyllos; syn. T. × vulgaris)
- Tilia × petiolaris (T. tomentosa × T. ?)
- Tilia 'Flavescens' (T. americana × T. cordata)
- Tilia 'Moltkei' (hybrid, unknown origin)
- Tilia 'Orbicularis' (hybrid, unknown origin)
- Tilia 'Spectabilis' (hybrid, unknown origin)
The Linden's sturdy trunk stands like a pillar and the branches divide and subdivide into numerous ramifications on which the spray is small and thick. In summer this is profusely clothed with large leaves and the result is a dense head of abundant foliage.
The leaves of all the lindens are one-sided, always heart-shaped, and the tiny fruit, looking like peas, always hangs attached to a curious, 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 lindens are similar, except that the American bears a petal-like scale among its stamens and the European varieties are destitute of these appendages. All of the lindens may be propagated by cuttings and grafting as well as by seed. They grow rapidly in a rich soil, but are subject to the attacks of many insect enemies.
The Linden is to be recommended as an ornamental tree when a mass of foliage or a deep shade is desired. 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 tea
, and this infusion is particularly popular in Europe.
T. cordata is the preferred species for medical use, having a high concentration of active compounds. It is said to be a nervine, used by herbalists in treating restlessness, hysteria, and headaches. Usually, the double-flowered lindens 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 species; see List of Lepidoptera that feed on Tilia.
The timber of lime trees is soft, easily worked, and has very little grain, so it is a popular wood for model building and intricate carving. Ease of working and good acoustic properties also make it popular for electric guitar and bass bodies and wind instruments such as recorders. It is also the wood of choice for the window-blinds and shutters industries. 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 (Old English language). A very strong fibre was obtained from this, by peeling off the bark and soaking in water for a month; after which the inner fibres can be easily separated. Bast obtained from the inside of the bark of the lime tree has been used by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, the attus.
In the percussion industry, basswood is sometimes used as a material for drum shells, both to enhance their sound and their aesthetics. Basswood is also frequently used as a material for electric guitar and bass bodies. In the past, it was typically used (along with Agathis) for favoured for less-expensive models. However, due to its better resonance at mid and high frequency, and better sustain than alder, it is now more commonly in use with superstrats. 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.
Most medicinal research has focused on Tilia cordata
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 lime flowers include flavonoids
(which act as antioxidants
), volatile oils, and mucilaginous constituents (which soothe and reduce inflammation). The plant also contains tannins that can act as an astringent.
Lime flowers are used in colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache (particularly migraine), as a diuretic (increases urine production), antispasmodic (reduces smooth muscle spasm along the digestive tract), and sedative. New evidence shows that the flowers may be hepatoprotective. The flowers were added to baths to quell hysteria, and steeped as a tea to relieve anxiety-related indigestion, irregular heartbeat, and vomiting. The leaves are used to promote sweating to reduce fevers. 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.
In Europe, Lime trees are known to have reached ages measured in centuries, if not longer. A coppice
of T. cordata
in Westonbirt Arboretum
, for example, is estimated to be 2,000 years old. In
the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg is a lime which tradition says was planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of Henry II of Germany. This would make the tree about nine hundred years old (when it was described). It looks ancient and infirm, but in 1900 was sending forth thrifty leaves on its two or three remaining branches and was of course cared for tenderly. The famous Lime of Neustadt on the Kocher in Württemberg was computed to be one thousand years old when it fell.. 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 Lime tree was already on this spot.
- The excellence of the honey of far-famed Hybla was due to the lime trees that covered its sides and crowned its summit.
- The name of Linnaeus, the great botanist, was derived from a lime tree.
- Tilia appears in the tertiary formations of Grinnel Land in 82° north latitude, and in Spitsbergen. Sapporta believed that he found there the common ancestor of the limes of Europe and America.
The lime tree is a national emblem
, the Czech Republic
and the Sorbs
, where it is called lipa
(липа), and Slovenian
) and lípa
). The tree also has cultural and spiritual significance in Hungary, where it is called hars
, consists of 100 lipa
, also meaning "linden". The lime tree is also the tree of legend of the Slavs
. In the Slavic Orthodox Christian
world, limewood was the preferred wood for panel icon
painting. The famous icons by the hand of Andrei Rublev
, including the Holy Trinity
(Hospitality of Abraham), and The Savior
, now in the State Tretyakov Gallery
, are painted on limewood. Limewood was chosen for its ability to be sanded very smooth, and for its resistance to warping once seasoned
The national poet of Romania, Mihai Eminescu, was known to receive poetic inspiration from a linden tree in the Copou Gardens under which he would compose.
The most famous street in Berlin, Germany is called Unter den Linden or Under the lindens, named after the linden trees lining the boulevard. In German folklore, the linden tree is the "tree of lovers."
The tilia was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples
in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology
Originally, local communities not only assembled to celebrate and dance under the lime-tree 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 lime-tree) 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 tree leaf sticks to him, leaving a spot on his body untouched by the blood and he thus has a single point of vulnerability.
, and Pliny
mention the lime-tree and mention 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.
As Freya was also the goddess of love her tree was always considered a romantic symbol, even to the present day. For instance, a very famous mediaeval
love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide
(c. 1170–c. 1230) starts with a reference to the lime-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 lime tree
- on the open field,
- 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 the most famous Romanian
romantic poet Mihai Eminescu
. An excerpt from his poem Mai am un singur dor
(One Wish Alone Have I):
- Pătrunză talanga
- Al serii rece vânt,
- Deasupră-mi teiul sfânt
- Să-şi scuture creanga.
- While softly rings
- The evening's cool wind
- Above me the holy lime
- Shakes its branch. (translation: M.G.Jiva)
Romantic symbols in music
The trees have also become more famous from O-Zone
's Dragostea Din Tei
(Love From Linden Trees).
- Vrei sa pleci dar nu ma nu ma iei,
- nu ma nu ma iei,
- nu ma nu ma nu ma iei.
- Chipul tau si Dragostea din tei
- mi-amintesc de ochii tai.
- You want to leave, but you can't take me,
- you can't take me,
- you can't take me, you can't take me.
- The image of your face and the love from linden trees
- remind me of your eyes.''
Other literary references
The lime tree is an important symbol in Samuel Taylor Coleridge
's "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," (written 1797; first published 1800).
The linden tree is featured as a symbol of supernatural dread in Hannah Crafts' The Bondwoman's Narrative.
A road lined with linden trees is cursed by the narrator of the famous censored poem, "Ich was ein chint so wolgetan" (I was such a lovely child), from the Carmina Burana.
A poem from Wilhelm Müller's cycle of poems, Winterreise, is called "Der Lindenbaum." The cycle was later set to music by Franz Schubert.
The linden tree is featured in Tolstoy's War and Peace.