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Dictionary Definition



1 soft light-colored wood of any of various linden trees; used in making crates and boxes and in carving and millwork [syn: linden]
2 any of various deciduous trees of the genus Tilia with heart-shaped leaves and drooping cymose clusters of yellowish often fragrant flowers; several yield valuable timber [syn: linden, linden tree, lime, lime tree]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈbæswʊd/


  1. Any of several ornamental trees, of the genus Tilia; the lindens


Extensive Definition

Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, in Asia (where the greatest species diversity is found), Europe and eastern North America; it is not native to western North America. Under the Cronquist classification system, this genus was placed in the family Tiliaceae, but genetic research by the APG has resulted in the incorporation of this family into the Malvaceae. The trees are generally called lime in Britain and linden in North America.
Tilia species are large deciduous trees, reaching typically 20-40 m tall, with oblique-cordate leaves 6-20 cm across, and are found through the north temperate regions. The exact number of species is subject to considerable uncertainty, as many or most of the species will hybridise readily, both in the wild and in cultivation.


Lime is an altered form of Middle English lind, in the 16th century also line, from Old English feminine lind or linde, Proto-Germanic *lendā, cognate to Latin lentus "flexible" and Sanskrit latā "liana". Within Germanic, English lithe, German lind "lenient, yielding" are from the same root.
Linden was originally the adjective, "made from lime-wood", from the late 16th century also used as a noun, probably influenced by translations of German romance, as an adoption of Linden, the plural of German Linde (OED). Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit called "lime" (Citrus aurantifolia, family Rutaceae). Another widely-used common name used in North America is Basswood, derived from bast, the name for the inner bark (see Uses, below).
Latin tilia is cognate to Greek πτελέᾱ "elm tree", τιλίαι "black poplar" (Hes.), ultimately from a PIE *ptel-ei̯ā with a meaning of "broad (feminine)", perhaps "broad-leaved" or similar (IEW).


The following list comprises those most widely accepted species.

Hybrids and cultivars

  • Tilia × euchlora (T. dasystyla × T. platyphyllos)
  • Tilia × europaea Common Lime (T. cordata × T. platyphyllos; syn. T. × vulgaris)
  • Tilia × petiolaris (T. tomentosa × T. ?)
  • Tilia 'Flavescens' (T. americana × T. cordata)
  • Tilia 'Moltkei' (hybrid, unknown origin)
  • Tilia 'Orbicularis' (hybrid, unknown origin)
  • Tilia 'Spectabilis' (hybrid, unknown origin)


The Linden's sturdy trunk stands like a pillar and the branches divide and subdivide into numerous ramifications on which the spray is small and thick. In summer this is profusely clothed with large leaves and the result is a dense head of abundant foliage.
The leaves of all the lindens are one-sided, always heart-shaped, and the tiny fruit, looking like peas, always hangs attached to a curious, ribbon-like, greenish yellow bract, whose use seems to be to launch the ripened seed-clusters just a little beyond the parent tree. The flowers of the European and American lindens are similar, except that the American bears a petal-like scale among its stamens and the European varieties are destitute of these appendages. All of the lindens may be propagated by cuttings and grafting as well as by seed. They grow rapidly in a rich soil, but are subject to the attacks of many insect enemies.
Lime flowers are used in colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache (particularly migraine), as a diuretic (increases urine production), antispasmodic (reduces smooth muscle spasm along the digestive tract), and sedative. New evidence shows that the flowers may be hepatoprotective. The flowers were added to baths to quell hysteria, and steeped as a tea to relieve anxiety-related indigestion, irregular heartbeat, and vomiting. The leaves are used to promote sweating to reduce fevers. The wood is used for liver and gallbladder disorders and cellulitis (inflammation of the skin and surrounding soft tissue). That wood burned to charcoal is ingested to treat intestinal disorders and used topically to treat edema or infection, such as cellulitis or ulcers of the lower leg.


In Europe, Lime trees are known to have reached ages measured in centuries. In the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg is a lime which tradition says was planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of Henry II of Germany. This would make the tree about nine hundred years old (when it was described in ). It looks ancient and infirm, but in 1900 was sending forth thrifty leaves on its two or three remaining branches and was of course cared for tenderly. The famous Lime of Neustadt on the Kocher in Würtemberg was computed to be one thousand years old when it fell.. The Alte Linde tree of Naters, Switzerland, is already mentioned in a document in 1357 and described by the writer at that time as already "magnam" (huge). A plaque at its foot mentions that in 1155 a Lime tree was already on this spot.
  • The excellence of the honey of far-famed Hybla was due to the lime trees that covered its sides and crowned its summit.
  • The name of Linnaeus, the great botanist, was derived from a lime tree.
  • Tilia appears in the tertiary formations of Grinnel Land in 82° north latitude, and in Spitsbergen. Sapporta believed that he found there the common ancestor of the limes of Europe and America.

Cultural significance

see Trees in mythology The lime tree is a national emblem of Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, where it is called lipa (in Slovak, Polish, and Slovenian) and lípa (in Czech). The tree also has cultural and spiritual significance in Hungary, where it is called hars(fa).The Croatian currency, kuna, consists of 100 lipa, also meaning "linden". The lime tree is also the tree of legend of the Slavs. In the Slavic Orthodox Christian world, limewood was the preferred wood for panel icon painting. The famous icons by the hand of Andrei Rublev, including the Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), and The Savior, now in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, are painted on limewood. Limewood was chosen for its ability to be sanded very smooth, and for its resistance to warping once seasoned.
The national poet of Romania, Mihai Eminescu, was known to receive poetic inspiration from a linden tree in the Copou Gardens under which he would compose.
The most famous street in Berlin, Germany is called Unter den Linden or Under the lindens, named after the linden trees lining the boulevard. In German folklore, the linden tree is the "tree of lovers."

Germanic mythology

The tilia was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.
Originally, local communities not only assembled to celebrate and dance under the lime-tree to hold their judicial thing meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth. Thus the tree became associated with jurisprudence even after Christianization, such as in the case of the Gerichtslinde, and verdicts in rural Germany were frequently returned sub tilia (under the lime-tree) until the Age of Enlightenment.
In the Nibelungenlied, a medieval German work ultimately based on oral tradition recounting events amongst the Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries, Siegfried gains his invulnerability by bathing in the blood of a dragon. While he did so, a single linden tree leaf sticks to him, leaving a spot on his body untouched by the blood and he thus has a single point of vulnerability.

Greek mythology

Homer, Horace, Virgil, and Pliny mention the lime-tree and mention its virtues. As Ovid tells the old story of Baucis and Philemon, she was changed into a linden and he into an oak when the time came for them both to die.
Herodotus says: The Scythian diviners take also the leaf of the lime-tree, which, dividing into three parts, they twine round their fingers; they then unbind it and exercise the art to which they pretend.

Romantic symbol

As Freya was also the goddess of love her tree was always considered a romantic symbol, even to the present day. For instance, a very famous mediaeval love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1170-c.1230) starts with a reference to the lime-tree:
Linden-trees play a significant motif in a number of poems written by the most famous Romanian romantic poet Mihai Eminescu. An excerpt from his poem Mai am un singur dor (One Wish Alone Have I):

Romantic symbols in music

The trees have also become more famous from O-Zone's Dragostea Din Tei (Love From Linden Trees).

Other Literary References

The lime tree is an important symbol in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," (written 1797; first published 1800).
The linden tree is featured as a symbol of supernatural dread in Hannah Crafts' The Bondwoman's Narrative.
A road lined with linden trees is cursed by the narrator of the famous censored poem, "Ich was ein chint so wolgetan" (I was such a lovely child), from the Carmina Burana.
A poem from Wilhelm Müller's cycle of poems, Winterreise, is called "Der Lindenbaum." The cycle was later set to music by Franz Schubert.

See also


basswood in Arabic: زيزفون
basswood in Bulgarian: Липа
basswood in Czech: Lípa (rod)
basswood in Danish: Lind
basswood in German: Linden (Botanik)
basswood in Estonian: Pärn
basswood in Spanish: Tilia
basswood in Esperanto: Tilio
basswood in Basque: Ezki
basswood in Persian: نمدار
basswood in French: Tilleul
basswood in Croatian: Lipa (biljka)
basswood in Italian: Tilia
basswood in Hebrew: טיליה
basswood in Lithuanian: Liepa (augalas)
basswood in Dutch: Lindeboom
basswood in Japanese: シナノキ属
basswood in Norwegian: Lind
basswood in Polish: Lipa (drzewo)
basswood in Portuguese: Tilia
basswood in Russian: Липа
basswood in Slovenian: Lipa
basswood in Serbian: Липа (дрво)
basswood in Finnish: Lehmukset
basswood in Swedish: Lind
basswood in Vietnamese: Chi Đoạn
basswood in Turkish: Ihlamur
basswood in Chinese: 椴树
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