What Tree? Cut-leaved Lime

Cut-leaved Lime ‘Laciniata’ (Tilia platyphyllos laciniata)

The focus of this month’s ‘What Tree?’ is a very specific cultivar of large-leaved lime. This is because this species was identified during a recent tree survey on behalf of one of our Client’s. Other than on this site, the only time that we have come across this particular tree is in arboretums. Therefore, what better way to celebrate such a unique tree than have it as a feature. Cut-leaved Lime ‘Laciniata’   

The species derivation comes from the Greek ‘platys’, meaning broad, and ‘phyllon’ which refers to a leaf. Outside of Britain this species is often referred to as large-leaved linden, whereas the use of ‘lime’ is believed to be a corruption of ‘lind’. However, the tree is not closely related to the lime fruit tree. The cultivar ‘laciniata’ is derived from Latin, meaning fringed or deeply cut. 

Large-leaved limes naturally occur in the UK and were commonly used throughout the medieval period for timber, animal fodder and honey. With advancements in engineering and stronger timber sources from other trees, the use of lime now is generally associated with decorative carving. Given the scarcity of ‘laciniata’ cultivars, these uses are in relation to the more widespread large-leaved lime.  

The specific origin of this cultivar is unknown, but records indicate that it may have been in cultivation by 1844. With its unique foliage the tree is often considered a delicate and attractive specimen. With large flower bracts, which are a similar size to large-leaved lime, these can dwarf the delicate leaves and make the tree particularly striking in early summer.  

There are several other reported forms that are associated with this cultivar. These are predominantly variegated forms with either white or yellow spotting on the leaves. These were first recorded in Belgium and Holland, and therefore are likely to be even more scarce, if at all present, in the UK outside of arboretums or cultivation. 

Within the UK this tree is generally only found in arboretums or private collections. However, its use as an urban tree has become more popular in some states of the USA due to its relatively low maintenance, unusual appearance and ability to survive an urban environment.  

Interestingly, a specimen tree can be found at Bute Park in Cardiff and is situated on the east side of the Southern woodland, behind railings that are close to the castle (Grid Reference: ST 17963 76533). We would certainly recommend a visit if you were in the vicinity of Bute Park. 

Appearance and Identification

Unlike large-leaved lime, ‘laciniata’ trees are a small to medium sized tree which can reach up to 20 metres tall with a dense conical or pyramidal shape.  

Identification of this tree is easiest in spring/summer when in full leaf. The leaves are much smaller than the common name would suggest, are dark green, narrow and very irregularly lobed. No two leaves appear the same and the leaves can often resemble a shredded appearance.

 Cut-leaved Lime Leaves Cut-leaved Lime ‘Laciniata’  Leaves Cut-leaved Lime ‘Laciniata’ (Tilia platyphyllos ‘laciniata’)Close-up of Cut-leaved Lime Leaf

The tree features subtle clusters of fragrant yellow flowers with tan bracts that hang below the branches in early summer. In maturity the tree exhibits dark furrowed bark, which is often smooth grey/brown when young.

Cut-leaved Lime Tree Trunk

Propagation & Control

This tree is not particularly shade tolerant and is best suited to full sunlight with a good aftercare. Fortunately they are adaptive to soils and can withstand either dry or moist soil conditions. While generally not found in urban areas in the UK,  they are generally tolerant of urban pollution and therefore may be suitable for diversifying resilience while providing a unique appearance.  

Due to the scarcity of this tree, it has not been possible to determine whether this cultivar is susceptible to common tree pests and diseases (i.e. fungi, aphids, wilt etc.) associated with large-leaved limes. Given the same genetic make-up it would be prudent to assume this were possible if considering this cultivar within a planting scheme.    

Source and reference materials

Information detailed in this post has been obtained from the author’s own knowledge and photographic library where possible.  Additional sources of information include:

More, D & White, J. (2013). Illustrated trees of Britain and Europe. Domino.

Van den Berk, B.V. (2004). Van den Bek on Trees. Van den Berk Nurseries