Lime trees at Bradfield Woods
Lime - Tree of Mystery
In this article we will explore the Lime tree.
I remember my first encounter with the small- leaved lime tree ( Tilia Cordata) in the ancient woods known as Bradfield Woods in Suffolk, one of the most continually managed woods in Britain and also one of the most biodiverse.
The lime coppice characteristically spreads out whilst still young and then somehow straightens itself up as it matures, the rings on its wood grow unevenly and some years do not form at all! Although it has soft wood that is not durable it has an astonishing ability to survive in shade even growing under the dense canopy of oak. Often the lime tree is prone to rot and therefore is short lived and yet has a tenacious habit of suckering. As a coppice it seems to live indefinitely with examples of huge stools over a thousand years old.
A magic seems to feel the air where this species grows, a light graceful aura permeates the wood. Its dense canopy is lightened by its blueish heart-shaped leaves which distinguish it from the more common species of Tilia x europaea. Fossilised remains of the species Ernoporus tiliae, the bast bark beetle and studies of palynology confirm this tree dominated the South of England in early times only giving way to Alder in wetter regions and yet it is one of the least recorded trees in history and is now absent from Scotland, Ireland and much of Southern England. This indicates the continued management and planting of this tree was not essential and as it rarely seeds once destroyed it sadly does not regenerate.
Lime wood is most famously used for wood carving, in piano- making and is also known in the furniture industry. Its wood is soft and not hard wearing so is only rarely used in buildings. The wood is present in Neolithic structures such as the sweet track which although brings evidence of its existence it is likely our ancestors utilised any wood available rather than because of its merits.
One of the most known areas of Lime would have been around Lyndhurst which means 'Lime Wood' and when we discover woods or references with the name 'bass' in it this is referring to the use of the lime tree's phloem layer to create rope. This material would have been used to hold medieval scaffold poles together but unlikely to have competed well against the 1500 year old cannabis industry which produced high quality material.
What then of the folklore of the mysterious lime tree? Baltic folklore connects the tree to the goddess of fate and there are several stories in Greek mythology of goddesses taken the form of the lime tree.
Throughout Europe the tree quite understandably is associated with the joys of spring and especially in Germany with love, justice and unearthing the truth. In Europe it certainly seems to be an exalted and celebrated as tree of sacred stature.
But what of its associations in British folklore? Surely its heart- shaped leaves, soft wood and useful bark speak of a goddess of love and joy? When in July bees swam to its nectar-filled flowers surely our ancestors would have associated it with delightful other-worldly places?
And yet in Celtic lore, historical records and folk stories we draw a blank, the folk song Linden lea at leasts mentions this delightful tree.
Maybe the lime tree is a secret love unfolding in the heart of a ruined wildwood landscape waiting to captivate and awaken a sweet gentle quality once more?
As I leave Bradfield woods and note the exquisite flora, the graceful lime trees and the rare oxslips growing beneath their canopy I reflect on its associations with primulas which seem to favour this tree.
Shakespeare said primulas 'die unmarried' this is due to the flowers early arrival, flowering at a time unnoticed by the pollinators. The lime also stands unnoticed, felled early in wildwood times when we as a race wanted to tame the landscape.
Maybe now the few ancient stands of the lime tree speak of a bereft mother pinning for the more peaceful times when people lived in harmony with nature?
The leaves as they begin to burst taste exquisite literally melting in the mouth. The flowers that follow are calming and good for insomnia, nervous tension, coughs and catarrh. A wonderfully soothing and calming tree. If you have any medical conditions please check with a medical herbalist first before taking any plant and only harvest it if you are 100% sure what it is!
For a more detailed exploration you may wish to explore our Tree Folklore Course and support valuable Conservation work.
Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.