Large-leaved lime is the rarest of our native limes and is only subtly different from small-leaved lime.
Common name: large-leaved lime
Scientific name: Tilia platyphyllos
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: during the war lime blossom was used to make a soothing tea.
What does large-leaved lime look like?
Overview: the bark is darker than that of small-leaved lime, and smooth, developing flaky plates with age. Twigs are grey-green in the shade but become reddish in sunlight. Unlike small-leaved lime, large-leaved lime does not produce suckers from the base of the trunk.
Leaves: heart shaped with a pointed tip, softly furry and have hairy stalks. They are larger than those of the small-leaved lime, growing 6-12cm in length, and can droop in hot weather, taking on a ‘hooded’ appearance.
Flowers: limes are hermaphrodite, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Flowers are green-yellow and have five petals, and hang in clusters of 4-10.
Fruits: once pollinated by insects, flowers develop into round to oval, smooth fruits with pointed tips.
Look out for: the heart shaped leaves are hairy all over on the underside which feels rough to touch.
Could be confused with: other limes and hybrids. It is possible to tell true species apart from the underside of the leaf. Common lime (Tilia x europea) has tufts of white hairs in leaf axils whereas in small leaved lime these are rusty red. Lime large leaved (Tilia playyphyllos) has hairs all over the underside. Common lime is a hybrid and is rare in the wild in the UK.
Identified in winter by: the grey twigs are only sparsely hairy and often have no hairs at all. Red buds are larger than 4mm and have only 2-3 scales.
Where to find large-leaved lime
It is native to much of Europe and occurs locally in the south west of England on lime-rich soils.
Value to 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). The flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees.
Long-lived trees provide dead wood for wood-boring beetles, and nesting holes for birds.
Mythology and symbolism
Limes have long been associated with fertility. In France and Switzerland, limes are a symbol of liberty, and the trees were planted to celebrate different battles.
How we use large-leaved lime
Lime wood is soft and light, white-yellow and finely textured. It is easy to work and often used in turnery, carving and furniture making. Lime bark was traditionally used to make rope, and lime flowers were considered a valuable source of food for honey bees. The wood does not warp and is still used today to make sounding boards and piano keys. Limes can be coppiced and used for fuel, hop-poles, bean-sticks, cups, ladles, bowls and even Morris dancing sticks.
Lime trees may be susceptible to fungal disease, which can cause root rot and bleeding cankers. Trees can also suffer infestations of aphids, sap-sucking insects and gall mites, including the nail gall. Trees are occasionally affected by wilt, which can be fatal.