Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

September 2018

Our churchyard Lindens

Linden is the old name for Lime tree and a word much used by poets who recognised the beauty of this tree not only for its age, which can be considerable, but also for the downward sweeping branches and scented blossoms borne in summer.

Our churchyard limes are impressive, two are huge trees growing beside the southward path towards the Council cemetery and one younger tree grows strongly by the junction to Thomas Merritt’s grave. This latter tree is actually a cutting taken, about 15 years ago, from one of the mature trees.

In Celtic and Germanic tradition the Lime is seen to inspire fairness and justice and as a result evidence was often heard beneath a Lime. The planting of lime trees was particularly popular in the 17th century and it still goes on today because the lime is a very tolerant tree, suitable for parks, streets and town centres where, if required, it can be cut back brutally, trained and it still thrives. In large gardens it is often seen in regimented rows and ‘pleached’ to produce formal shapes with bare trunks and horizontal arms. This can be seen in Camborne’s fountain area and at one stage in Redruth’s central car park.

The Common lime is a hybrid (Tilia x europaea) identified by tufts of white/beige hairs in leaf vein axils whereas in the Small-leaved lime these are rusty red. The Large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos) has hairs all over the underside. Lime trees are not at all common in the countryside or woodlands. One authority on the subject says that one of our species in particular, does not set a crop of seeds unless the summer temperatures are warmer than normal.

Lime leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of many moth species, including the lime hawk, peppered,  vapourer, triangle and scarce hook-tip moths. Limes are very attractive to aphids, providing a source of food for their predators, including hoverflies, ladybirds and many species of bird. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees but are less popular when nectar and aphid honeydew falls on parked cars! As long-lived trees they provide dead wood for wood-boring beetles, and nesting holes for birds.

Lime trees are easily propagated from cuttings using basal shoots and they also form new trees whenever a lower branch touches the ground. Layering sometimes leads to a circle of new trees if the main tree eventually dies or collapses. In former times when straight, young poles were needed for stakes, hop poles, etc., limes were coppiced and cut down at regular intervals much as Sweet chestnut is managed in Kent today. Such coppiced trees produce many vigorous stems and this is not harmful as may be supposed and studies of the huge stools formed suggest they may be 6,000 years old, the oldest trees in the land.

Lime wood is easily worked and used in cups, ladles, bowls, piano keys and furniture whilst the bark makes rope. Lime sticks are used by Morris men as dancing sticks as they tolerate ‘thwacking’ without splitting!

Extract from a favourite poem:

“And air-swept lindens yield their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid, and bower me from the August sun with shade.

‘The Scholar Gypsy’ by Matthew Arnold 1822-1888

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