Have you ever walked down a summer street or across an open space and wondered where that divine and illusive scent is coming from? Chances are you have caught a whiff of the subtle and delicious lime flower perfume. Lime, linden or Tilia July is their season. Fully leafed-out and covered in blossom these mature ‘high forest’ trees are magnificent at the moment.
But limes have a bad name because they ‘drip’ on cars and cover everything beneath them with a sticky, often black substance. Actually, it’s not the lime itself that causes the problem. The tree is very attractive to aphids that produce a sticky exudate or honeydew. This in turn is attractive to a sooty mould so the aphids drop the honeydew onto surrounding surfaces and this becomes colonised by the mould. Lime trees get the blame and many local councils have stopped planting them because of this problem even though as the season wears on lacewings, ladybirds and other predators do their job and feast on the aphids, clearing up the sticky mess.
There are some lime species that are less prone to aphid attack such as Tilia x euchlora, but this species along with Tilia petiolaris is less planted because of its narcotic effect on bees. Their scent and nectar are addictive to bees causing them to satiate themselves until they die. The silver-leaved Tilia petiolaris is particularly attractive and narcotic to bees. Sometimes it may be the intense drone of the bees which first alerts you to a lime tree in flower, looking up you realise that the tree is alive with bees gorging on the lime pollen.
We should make greater use of the lime, in the South of France Tilia × europaea L. (synonym Tilia × vulgaris Hayne) is used for making tea and honey and the young leaves can be eaten in salads.
Planted in an open situation mature lime trees form great, blousy specimens with graceful stems and heart-shaped leaves. The pale, creamy-yellow flowers are unobtrusive but hang between pale green bracts giving the tree a kind of shaggy appearance in full flower. But the most beautiful thing about lime in flower is the intoxicating fragrance which is an unexpected delight on a summer evening.