Tilia cordata

Tilia cordata
Tilia cordata leaves and flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Tiliaceae[1]
Genus: Tilia
Species: T. cordata
Binomial name
Tilia cordata
Distribution map
Tree bumblebee on the small-leaved lime

Tilia cordata (small-leaved lime, occasionally littleleaf linden[2] or small-leaved linden) is a species of Tilia native to much of Europe, from Britain through central Fennoscandia, to central Russia, and south to central Spain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, the Caucasus, and western Asia. In the south of its range it is restricted to high elevations.[3][4]

T. platyphyllos (left) and T. cordata leaf comparison


Tilia cordata is a deciduous tree growing to 20–40 m (66–131 ft) tall, diameter 1/3 to 1/2 the height, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter. The bark is smooth and grayish when young, firm with vertical ridges and horizontal fissures when older. The crown is rounded in a formal oval shape to pyramidal. Branching is upright and increases in density with age.[5] The leaves are alternately arranged, rounded to triangular-ovate, 38 cm long and broad, mostly hairless (unlike the related Tilia platyphyllos) except for small tufts of brown hair in the leaf vein axils - the leaves are distinctively heart-shaped. The buds are alternate, pointed egg shaped and have red scales. It has no terminal bud.[5] The small yellow-green hermaphrodite flowers are produced in clusters of five to eleven in early summer with a leafy yellow-green subtending bract, have a rich, heavy scent; the trees are much visited by bees to the erect flowers which are held above the bract; this flower arrangement is distinctly different from that of the Common Lime Tilia × europaea where the flowers are held beneath the bract. The fruit is a dry nut-like drupe 67 mm long by 4 mm broad containing one, or sometimes two, brown seeds (infertile fruits are globose), downy at first becoming smooth at maturity, and (unlike T. platyphyllos and also T. x europaea) not ribbed but very thin and easily cracked open.[3][6]


In Britain T. cordata is considered an indicator of ancient woodland, and is becoming increasingly rare.[7] Owing to its rarity, a number of woods have been given SSSI status. Cocklode Wood, part of the Bardney Limewoods, is the best surviving spread of medieval small leaved limes in England.[8] Another site is Shrawley Wood in Worcestershire.[9] Small-leaved lime was once regarded as holy and good for carving.[10]

Trees in northern England were found to have established when the climate was warmer and have adapted to the cooling climate. Paleobotanical analysis of tree pollen preserved in peat deposits demonstrates that T. cordata was present as a woodland tree in the southern Lake District c 3100 B.C.[11] In spite of the late migration of T. cordata into the Lake District, pollen diagrams from many sites show rapid expansion so that, within a few centuries, it had become plentiful and even locally dominant in the southern valleys. Maximum values for Tilia from all pollen diagrams available for the north of England show a conspicuous concentration of high values in the southern Lake District. At several sites among the limestone hills on both sides of the estuary of the River Kent, the curves for Tilia, although beginning about 4800 to 4000 B.C. then achieve values of at least 10% within a few centuries. At Witherslack values of this magnitude persist for a depth of 3 m which represents about 4000 years. For much of this period Ulmus is approximately 10%, Quercus 20% and the remaining arboreal pollen is largely that of Alnus. For a shorter period Tilia exceeds Quercus and reaches a maximum of 30%. The (Witherslack) basin is about 200 m in width, so that with distance correction factors applied this indicates that the surrounding woodlands on well-drained soils contained Tilia, Quercus and Ulmus in the proportions 4 : 1 : 1. Modern mature woodland trees were estimated to have germinated between 1150 and 1300 AD, making them around 800 years old. Precise age determination is impossible as heartwood at the centre disintegrates and therefore rings cannot be counted, and other methods are used.[12]

Pests and diseases

The tree is fairly disease-resistant, though a common problem is leaf scorch where planted on dry soils, however leaf scorch is not a long-term problem as the leaves are lost in the autumn. Pests include Japanese beetles, aphids, lace bugs and various species of moths.[13]

Cultivation and uses

15-year-old lime-tree, Haute-Savoie, France

Tilia cordata is widely grown as an ornamental tree. It was much planted to form avenues in 17th and early 18th century landscape planning. A famous example is Unter den Linden in Berlin. It is also widely cultivated in North America as a substitute for the native Tilia americana (American linden or basswood) which has a larger leaf, coarser in texture; there it has been renamed "Little-leaf Linden". It is popular as both a shade tree with its dense canopy, an ornamental tree with its architectural shape and a street tree. In the USA, Tilia cordata has been planted in Wellesley, MA; Modesto, CA; Chicago, IL; Indianapolis, IN; and Atlanta, GA as street trees.[14] In Europe, there are espaliered trees owing to the ability to survive heavy pruning. Tilia cordata is an easy tree to train for bonsai when the training is not done all at once. Letting the tree recoup in between sessions over a period of several months creates a healthy, good-looking miniature tree.[15]

Tilia cordata survives best in a soil pH range of 5.0 to 8.0.[16] USDA Hardiness Zone 3-7.[17] The tree prefers moist, well drained soil, but can survive flooding; it is not highly drought tolerant.[13] It does not do well in soils with high salinity.[18]

Notable trees

The Najevnik linden tree (Slovene: Najevska lipa), about 700 years old Tilia cordata, is the thickest tree in Slovenia. It is a place of cultural events, and every June a national meeting of Slovene politicians takes place under it.[19]



Linden flower tea

Mature fruits
Tiliae flos: Flowers (and impurities consisting of other parts) of Tilia cordata as commonly used in linden flower tea

In the countries of Central, Southern and Western Europe, linden flowers are a traditional herbal remedy made into an herbal tea called Tilleul (linden flower tea).[21]


A monofloral honey is produced by bees using the trees and is considered highly valuable. The young leaves can be eaten as a salad vegetable.[22] Often cattle graze upon them.[21]

Linden wood

The white, finely-grained wood is not a structurally strong material but a classic choice for refined woodcarvings such as those by Grinling Gibbons for medieval altars. Linden wood was the prime choice for the carvings in St. Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle, and Chatsworth.[21] It is also commonly used for lightweight projects such as carved spoons, light furniture, bee hives and honeycomb frames.[23]

Cultural Significance

Tilia cordata is the national tree of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.[24]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tilia cordata.
  1. http://www.arborday.org/trees/treeGuide/browseTrees.cfm
  2. "Tilia cordata". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  4. Den Virtuella Floran: Tilia cordata (in Swedish; with maps
  5. 1 2 Upham Smith, Alica (1969). Trees in a winter landscape. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 978-0030818639.
  6. Flora of NW Europe: Tilia cordata
  7. Natural England internal website
  8. Woodland Trust The test-tube tree'’ Broadleaf Anon Spring 2014 p7
  9. Natural England Citation dated 12 May 1986
  10. Woodland Trust Giant seed hunt to revitalize woods'’ Broadleaf Anon Spring 2014 p9
  11. Pigott, C. D. (January 1980). "Factors Controlling the Distribution of Tilia cordata at the Northern Limits of Its Geographical Range. II. History in North-West England". New Phytologist. 84 (1): 145–164. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.1980.tb00757.x.
  12. Pigott, C. D. (May 1989). "Factors Controlling the Distribution of Tilia cordata Mill at the Northern Limits of Its Geographical Range. IV. Estimated Ages of the Trees". New Phytologist. 112 (1): 117–121. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.1989.tb00316.x. JSTOR 2556763.
  13. 1 2 Gilman, Edward; Watson, Dennis. "Tilia cordata Littleleaf Linden" (PDF). Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  14. Phillips, Leonard E. Jr. (1993). Joel Stein, ed. Urban Trees: A Guide for Selection, Maintenance, and Master Planning. United States of America: McGraw-Hill. p. 259.
  15. "Bonsai Focus". Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  16. "Soil pH Trees and Shrubs and what they like" (PDF). Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Dirr, Michael A. (2009). Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (6th ed.). Champaign, IL: Stripes. pp. 1148–1149. ISBN 1-58874-868-5.
  18. Kotuby-Amacher, Jan (March 2000). "Salinity and Plant Tolerance" (PDF). Electronic Publishing. pp. 1–8. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  19. Šmid Hribar, Mateja. "Najevska lipa" [Najevnik Linden Tree]. In Šmid Hribar, Mateja; Golež, Gregor; Podjed, Dan; Kladnik, Drago; Erhartič, Bojan; Pavlin, Primož; Ines, Jerele. Enciklopedija naravne in kulturne dediščine na Slovenskem – DEDI [Encyclopedia of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Slovenia] (in Slovenian). Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  20. Flora of NW Europe: Tilia vulgaris
  21. 1 2 3 Grieve, M. "Lime Tree". Botanical.com.
  22. Vernon, J. (2007). Fruits of the forest. The Garden November 2007: 738. Royal Horticultural Society.
  23. Williams SWCD (16 February 2005). "Little leaf linden is fragrant". The Bryan Times. p. 11. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  24. Aberystwyth University campus walks tree directory (PDF). Aberystwyth University sports centre. p. 9. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
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