Early summer is probably the best time for trees when greenery is luxuriant and youthfulness at its most exuberant. And it is the time of year that reminds me why I chose to follow Tilias – the whole circuit of them in fact around Tavistock square. Pollarded to a shorter height even than the Lime tree walk of Gordon square (right) – but both equally enchanting in their play with light.
I suppose it’s the sense of being cloistered that I love; a meditative walk between the short and long perspectives, noting the individual characteristics of each and every tree.
But the tree follower is not just an admirer and so I remind myself to take a closer look at what changes there might be. Other than the newer trees being younger and hence slimmer with a more mottled, greyer bark, the foliage is starkly different now between the common limes (T. Europea) and the modified version of the ‘Streetwise’ broadleaved lime (T. platyphollos).
Above are the thin-skinned Tx Europeas which readily grow from the base, along the trunk up to the canopy in pom-pom sprouts. Evidently they are food for predators, and seemingly for human foragers too:
“The leaves …can still be eaten now they are a bit tough and therefore I like to cut out and discard the central stem then slice them into strips before adding them to stir fry” 1.
By contrast the T. platyphyllos ‘Streetwise’ are a smaller, rounder leaf, much thicker, defined and hirsute. And by the lack of evident pest damage seemingly less edible to them – and by inference therefore to us.
“Hairy leaves are of course a natural defence against predators: “At the scale of an aphid, a hair becomes a tree and a hairy leaf, a forest“.2.
In addition hirsuteness restricts evaporation and slows down drying which may account for why these ‘Streetwise’ hybrids are designed to be more suited to urban conditions.
What I’ve been in search of amongst the foliage are signs of blossom – the gorgeous linden flowers that are such a delight to bees, our nostrils and the delicacy of tinctures and teas. In my haste to seek and still not to find I’ve overlooked closer observation of the leaves – there is quite a difference for example even between the Tilia × europaea hybrids with some trees having large and pointed leaves whilst others are extremely round and hand size.
Limes are hermaphrodite trees, and the common lime, although a hybrid, is a fertile one. I am not so sure about the fertility of the modified T. plat. ‘Streetwise’. Either way I can see no flowers yet – is it still too early I wonder or are pollarded trees doomed to never bloom? I am blithely optimistic for now.
Andy Hamilton describes the Tilia tree as looking like the poodle of the tree world – what a perfect description, and most suited to the pollarded versions with top knots that filter the chlorophyll greens into all shades of lime. That may not be how they came to be so called by us Brits but it is an epithet of perfect fit.
1. Andy Hamilton “Foraging for Medicine – Part one – Lime/linden blossom (Tilia)”
2. Microscopy UK: Plant Hairs
Tree Following with Lucy: There’s a link box on Loose and Leafy on 7th of the month for 7 days. Every month!