Lime trees are just coming into leaf in mid April. At least 10 species can be seen in Britain of which 3 are seen regularly, 2 are less frequent and 5 are rare and often only seen in botanical gardens. The three species you are most likely to see are the Broad-leaved Lime, the Common Lime, and the Small-leaved Lime. The Silver Lime and Silver Pendent Lime are beautiful trees but less frequent. Lime flowers and fruit are always attached to a pale green, odd-shaped leaf called a bract. The number of flowers and fruit per bract varies between Lime species but they are all arranged in a branched structure called a cyme. Lime trees do not produce the citrus fruits we know as limes. They come from a small tree with the botanical name Citrus aurantifolia which originates in south-east Asia. The word lime, as used for trees in Britain is believed to come from the Old English word lind.
Broad-leaved Lime Tilia platyphyllos. The Broad-leaved Lime, also known as the Large-leaved Lime, is native to Europe and Western Asia. It was probably introduced to Britain but now grows naturally in the lime rich soils such as those of the Wye Valley and parts of the Pennines. It is common in parks, streets and gardens. A ‘cultivated variety’ used as a street tree is ‘Rubra’ which has dark red shoots in winter. Leaf size cannot be used to identify the Broad-leaved lime because Common Limes often have bigger leaves. Common Limes are usually bigger and the Broad-leaved Lime is the first Lime species to flower, usually in June.
Common Lime Tilia x europaea. The Common Lime is a natural hybrid of the Broad-leaved Lime and the Small-leaved Lime and grows across Europe wherever these two are present. In Britain it has been planted everywhere in streets, parks, churchyards and formal gardens. Because it is a hybrid it grows rapidly and can reach 40m in height. This tree can easily be confused with the Broad-leaved Lime. The Common Lime flowers after the Broad-leaved Lime, usually in July.
Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata, The Small-leaved Lime is native to Europe, including Britain. It grows naturally in old woods and hedges in England and Wales as far north as the Lake District and it has been planted in many gardens and streets. The leaves are smaller than those of the Broad-leaved and Common Limes. The tree can easily be identified in summer by the way that its flowers stick out at all angles, the only Lime that does this. The Small-leaved Lime flowers in July.
Broad-leaved Lime leaf
Common Lime leaf
Small-leaved Lime leaf
The Broad-leaved lime is the first lime to come into flower, usually in June. In comparison the Common Lime flowers in July. This photograph was taken on June 4th. For more information on Lime flowers and fruit click here
These Common lime flowers were fully open in mid July.
This Small-leaved Lime had flowers that came out at the end of June and the tree was in full flower by mid July. Flowers stick out at an angle from the bract.