Horticultural Highlight: Tilia cordata, Littleleaf Linden
And Summer turns her head with its dark tangle
All the way towards us; and the trees are heavy,
With little sprays of limp green maple and linden…
– Robert Pinsky
One of the more memorable characteristics of early summer, throughout our landscape, is the sweet fragrance filling the air, from the flowers of our Tilia cordata, Littleleaf Linden. Also known, particularly in Europe, as Small-leaved Lime tree, this is one of about 30 deciduous species of Tilia, occurring throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
The yellow, small, pendulous flowers are attached to a floral bract, which looks more like a narrow, linear-shaped leaf. The bracts and inconspicuous-looking flowers are hidden beneath the leaves. But the flowers’ perfume frequently draws visitors closer, to identify the source of the intoxicating smell. These flowers also have highly desirous nectar and/or pollen, so numerous species of bees, and insects are attracted to help in cross pollination of Linden flowers. Indeed many people have known these trees as the “bee trees”, and apiarist often segregate the drawers of their hives during Tilia bloom. Linden flowers are also used by herbalists, to treat an array of conditions.
The leaves of Tilia cordata, Littleleaf Linden, are 2-to-4-inches long, heart-shaped, with a strongly serrated margin. There is a distinct asymmetry where the leaf blade attaches to the petiole (stem). Occasionally, there may be a striking autumn color, but more often there is a reasonable yellow display. The tree may grow as tall as 60 to 70 feet. Historically, the wood was used during the Viking era to create shields. More contemporary uses of this wood have been to build electric guitar and bass bodies. The inner bark was long processed to create rope. There is an interesting result of DNA analysis of a coppiced Tilia cordata, Littleleaf Linden at the Westonbirt Arboretum, in Britain, that estimated its age at over 2,000 years, the oldest Tilia in Britain.
On your next visit to Mount Auburn, you will not find such a Methuselah, but you will find the air filled with the evocative odor of our over two dozen Tilia cordata, Littleleaf Linden. Additionally, there are another two dozen Lindens, representing other species and hybrids, but all having in common their sweet smelling flowers.
Here a Linden-tree stood, bright’ning
All adown its silver rind;
For, as some trees draw the lightning,
So this tree, unto my mind,
Drew to earth the blessed sunshine
From the sky where it was shrined…
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The linden tree, it will assuage
With blossom, root and bark basswood.
Cure you with a proper dosage
So take the tea just as you should.
You’ll be filled with such gratitude-
Drunk on flower scent heavenly….
– Deborah Neher
I am waiting beneath the linden tree
Just where you promised you would come to me
My heart is aching, yet I am still waiting
For you sweetheart beneath the linden tree…
– Marge Plantier
There sat upon the linden-tree
A bird, and sang its strain;
So sweet it sang, that, as I heard,
My heart went back again.
It went to one remember’d spot,…
– Dietmar von Aist
Under the linden tree
Upon the heath,
There I lay with him. –Alas,
When you go there, you’ll see
The flowers beneath
Crushed and trodden with the grass….
-Walter von der Vogelweide