Tilia cordata

Today our gratitude goes to Ontario Wanderer, who, a few weeks ago, posted this great photo of an exceedingly interesting tree in our Flickr Pool. Along with the image, Wanderer included a brief write-up, which we here attach in its entirety as the first part of the day's entry. (Original Image)

Wanderer writes: "In Euell Gibbons’ book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs, I was introduced to the idea of listening and smelling for trees. He was searching for the basswood tree (Tilia americana). The photo above is of a close European relative, Tilia cordata or small-leaved lime, also called the small-leaved linden. It too can be found by sound and smell. The smell is of the tens of thousands of small flowers and the sound is of the many insects that it attracts. The tree area just buzzes with insect wing noises. It's a totally neat experience to be there when it blooms. This is one of several of the species that live in the RBG {Royal Botanic Garden, Hamilton, Ontario} Arboretum".

Malvaceae, commonly known as the mallow family, consists of about 200 genera and 2300 flowering plant species. Its ranks, which include the well-known genera Hibiscus and Abutilon, are filled primarily by herbs and shrubs, though there are some tree and liana (woody climbing) species as well. Species generally grow alternately-arranged leaves and nectary-bearing, actinomorphic flowers that are subtended by conspicuous bracts. Among the agriculturally important crops the family produces are cotton (Gossypium spp.) and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus).

Tilia includes about 30 large, deciduous tree species that reach up to 40 metres in height. These species are native to the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly those located in Asia, Europe, and eastern North America. Plants put forth richly fragrant flowers that produce an important form of mono-floral honey. Tilia goes by many names, among them lime (Britain), linden (Europe and North America), and basswood (also North America). The genus has a singularly robust symbolic resonance in the German poetic tradition, and appears significantly in medieval legends as well as in Goethe's 1774 epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Tilia cordata, the deciduous tree brilliantly featured in today's photo, is native to Britain, continental Europe, and western Asia. The tree serves as a veritable medicine cabinet, offering treatments for restlessness, hysteria, headaches, colds, fevers, inflammation, coughs, high blood pressure, infection, and other ailments as well. Beyond its own catalogue of medical offerings, the tree’s soft wood regularly acts as raw material in the production of musical instruments, particularly those in the string and wind families.

Tilia cordata

20 responses to “Tilia cordata”

  1. Cheryl Waugh

    A favourite tree of ours – the first time I came across an avenue of them I could not believe the lovely smell came from trees. Sadly a bit big for an english garden.

  2. CB

    This tree smells divine – I’m always happy to catch one in bloom! Linden flower tea is also very fragrant and relaxing.

  3. David Sutton

    Here at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent we have a wonderful avenue of Limes and many others around the park. The scent seemed to be even better than normal this year, a joy to walk through.

  4. Joanne Munson

    So is there a connection between the Malvaceae and the tilia? It is implied, but not stated.
    I liked the poetry about the linden tree so well that I named my daughter Linden.

  5. Stephen Coughlin (summer student 2009)


    Tilia is a genus included in Malvaceae.

    My apologies for the indirection.

    See here for further information.

  6. Annie Morgan

    and on another note, a friend in Hamilton has one planted (by condo management) right beside her parking space….they drip sticky stuff, horribly all over her car . But out in the garden? Wow, they are so beautiful in so many ways.

  7. Stephanie

    I love linden trees and wasn’t introduced to them until moving to the west coast. My favorite neighborhood park is Peninsula park here in North Portland. One of the reasons I like it so much is the huge lindens that surround the rose garden and shade the walking path, making it an oasis in an area where there are far too little big trees. I’m not sure which linden tree they are.

  8. Susanne

    we had one large specimen in our schoolyard, with a round bench built around it.
    Now I work at a place that still has several, close to 100 year old trees, and yes, they do buzz, but I have never heard of them dripping anything. We did lose one not too long ago, in high winds and rain saturated soils, too bad.
    I also grew up with lindenflower tea, which tastes really nice and sweet, as opposed to most other herbs that are supposed to be good for you 🙂
    PS there are also many small cultivars/species available of tilia that work in small spaces (ie in the tiny excuses for dirt left open in the Walmart parking lot in town.

  9. osage

    I once smelled the wonderful fragrance of lindens while walking in a park. On investigating, I found that the breeze was blowing it to us from a grove of lindens over a block away.

  10. marjorie lacy

    I live in West Yorkshire in the North of the U.K., I have a Lime tree in my garden, grown as a Bonsai (very successfully) he is approximately 30cm tall. All my trees are called “He”.
    They are beautiful trees. Thanki you for a lovely photo and write up.
    I enjoy my daily look at your site.

  11. ek

    I remember the 2 Linden trees that had been planted on the front boulevard in front of our home. Believe me…Linden trees DO drip! The siewalk under the trees became very tacky when the trees bloomed, so we took to scuffing our feet very clean before going to the door. When standing under the trees, we could feel ‘sprinkles’ raining down on us. A lovely tree that the bees love, but if you want to keep the car clean…

  12. elizabeth a airhart

    i think i shall never see
    a poem as lovely as a tree
    do you not think the fairies
    like to drink cups of tea
    under the limbs of the tree
    when the moon is full
    fine handsome tree thank you

  13. phillip

    Ontario Wanderer…..
    its so “neat”….i believe that is an understatement..of what you witnessed….i wish i could be as lucky as you….

  14. Laurie

    Linnaeus knew this as the Linden tree and took his botanical name from it. Also, the narrator of Proust’s Swann’s Way dips a madeleine into a cup of linden or lime blossom tea and the aroma and taste of cake and tea trigger his first conscious involuntary memory.

  15. ingrid

    The stickiness comes from scale insects infesting the lime trees, not from the trees themselves. So some trees drip, others don’t.
    How odd, I never noticed the smell from them? Will make a point of extra sniffing next time I’m in their company!

  16. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    I’m very familiar with “dripping” trees, and I think you’re right — scale insects, or else aphids, is what causes the dripping. We have a beautiful mature saucer magnolia which is plagued with scale and consequently drips horribly, all summer long, all over the small back yard which it just about covers. Makes the yard impossible to sit in. You can actually see the drizzle falling off the tree.
    The sticky substance covers everything in the yard. It’s euphemistally called “honeydew”, but is actually scale pee, i.e. digested tree sap. In previous years, the scale was controllable by a couple of applications of oil spray applied by a tree service, but this year I’m told that populations are exploding all over the city.
    The sticky sweet dripped stuff also attracts many insects, including ants and wasps/yellow-jackets.

  17. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    . . . so, we have the same quandary that people have expressed about the linden, where they love the tree, but the dripping is extremely unpleasant and makes the yard/garden unusable. But we’re starting to ask ourselves… should we remove this big gorgeous magnolia, that bursts into incredible thousands of huge pink-porcelain blossoms each spring? And COULD we actually remove it?

  18. Sam

    Bah! Tiliaceae FTW!

  19. jan phillips

    As a native tree that is not so common any more they are not planted enough in the UK. Doing my best here in the South west to use them as alternative to beech (Pah!) where the honeydew won’t drip on parked cars.

  20. brenda

    What time of year do the flowers bloom? We have a huge linden tree on the property, but it is a hike away and I have never noticed the scent. Would love to check it out, but please give an approximate month (for zone 5) when I could experience this.

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