By Alex Ainge
Tilia x europea Wikispecies
It’s a hybrid between the small-leaved and large-leaved lime and is a particular favourite of aphids and their many predators.
It is possible to tell true species apart by looking at the underside of the leaf. Common lime (Tilia x europaea) has tufts of white hairs at the end of twigs, whereas in small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) these are rusty red. Large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos) has hairs all over the underside.
Tilia platyphyllos Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org
Common lime is a hybrid and is rare in the wild in the UK. The bark is pale grey-brown and irregularly ridged, with characteristic large burrs and leaf shoots at the base of the tree. Twigs are slender and brown, although they become red in the sun.
The lime is definitely an “all-rounder” when we look at it’s uses, both for humans and wildlife.
Lime leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of many moth species, including the lime hawk, peppered, vapourer, triangle and scarce hook-tip moths. They are very attractive to aphids, providing a source of food for their predators, including hoverflies, ladybirds and many species of bird. Bees also drink the aphid honeydew deposited on the leaves.
Gyorgy Csoka, Hungary Forest Research Institute, Bugwood.org
The young leaves are edible in their raw state with the stalks removed. They make pleasant eating in salads or as a sandwich filling.
The flowers (collected with the bracts) have well-known medicinal properties. Lime-flower tea has been used for many centuries as an antidote to fever in cold and flu sufferers. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees.
The immature fruits, ground up with some flowers, produce an edible paste much like chocolate in flavour. Attempts to introduce its manufacture in the 18th century failed because the keeping qualities were poor; presumably, these could be overcome nowadays.
The sap is edible and can be tapped and used in the same way as maple syrup.
Long-lived trees provide dead wood for wood-boring beetles, and nesting holes for birds.