Small-Leaved Lime, Littleleaf Linden

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Located in the middle of the Grove Street Cemetery, this tree is a great addition to any landscape. Commonly known as the small-leaved lime or littleleaf linden, this species is not related to the lime fruit. Tilia cordata is in a family of large deciduous trees that populate the northern hemisphere, although this tree is still quite young and therefore small. Tilia is a Greek cognate for “elm tree” or “black poplar” which descends from the root “ptelea” for broad, likely indicating the leaves.
Anna Wujciak & Renhao Wang
Collected Data
Date of tree entry: 
7.01 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.24 m

The bark is gray or brown and has shallow ridges and furrows. It is very strong and can be peeled off and soaked to reveal robust inner fibers. These fibers are known as bast and come from the thick phloem in the bark.
Twigs & branches
T. cordata’s numerous branches stem from the trunk in all directions. They are thick and dense. The twigs are very skinny and zigzag. They initially grow green and turn brown with a tint of red during the winter months. Bulbs at the end of small twigs are not blossoms, but mucilaginous bulges that store water and sugars which develop into leaves.
The leaves of T. cordata are two to four inches long with a heart shape. They have serrate margins (sharp edges) and pinnate venation (smaller veins branch off of a large central vein). The leaves are a bright green until they turn yellow in the fall. T. cordata has several cultivars. “Chancellor” grows quickly upright with a central trunk. “Glenleven” has a pyramidal growth shape to create a canopy-type top. “Greenspire” has a straight trunk with branches around the entire radius. “ Bride” has slow pyramidal growth with glossy leaves and plentiful flowers. “Pyramidalis,” as the name indicates, has significant pyramidal growth. “Rancho” grows very narrow and has smaller, finer leaves. These varying cultivars influence the growth of T. cordata foliage.
Reproductive Structures
T. cordata has pale yellow flowers with a slight fragrance that blossom in mid summer/in June. Flowers cluster together and hang down several inches. The species is hermaphroditic, meaning it has both male and female reproductive organs.
Small nuts, called nutlets, ripen on the tree in the fall. They cluster together and are covered by a wing-like leaf above. The round nutlets have a brown fuzzy exterior and are less than a half-inch in size. These fruits do not attract wildlife.
  • Tilia Cordata in Spring
  • Tilia Cordata in Summer
  • Tilia Cordata in Fall (different tree)
Natural range of distribution: 
T. cordata originated in Asia, where it still shows the widest range of diversity. It is expected that the species originally germinated between 1150 and 1300. It is difficult to tell the real age of the species because the inner wood of the tree is so soft that it rots, making ring counting impossible. T. cordata has spread across the northern hemisphere and now populates North America and Europe. It is a very hardy tree that can tolerate a wide range of light exposure, varying soil conditions, strong winds, and moderate drought. The seeds will populate the surrounding area and can remain dormant for many months to years before germinating.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Due to the reliable growth pattern and low maintenance of T. cordata, these trees are a common architectural plant. They are common residential foliage, often lining sidewalks, medians, parking lots, etc. The wood is soft and difficult to finish and sand, so it is not commonly used for furniture or other industrial purposes. Instead, the wood is popular for puppet making and sculpting because it is very light. As mentioned above, the bast is very durable. This fiber has many applications including mats, shoes, rope, or paper. For example, the Ainu people in Japan have used the bast of T. cordata in weaving their clothing for centuries. The bulbs located on the end of the twigs are frequently eaten by animals because of their sweet nature and large quantity. These bulbs also have many human uses in light adhesive products, such as stamps. For centuries, T. cordata flowers have been used for their medicinal purposes to treat anxiety and stomach problems. A popular tea can be concocted from the leaves with similar therapeutic characteristics. A comparable substitute for chocolate can be created from grinding together the leaves and flowers of T. cordata because they are very mucilaginous, however the product has not been widely successful because it doesn’t have a long shelf life.

T. cordata flowers attract bees which behave as biological fertilization vectors. The only real threat to T. cordata is the Japanese beetle. In the northern growth regions, the beetles can eat all of the foliage in a single tree. Aphids, caterpillars, lace bugs, and spider mites can all feed on the leaves as well, however these species are not life threatening. They are more of an inconvenience, causing the tree to produce extra mucilage and discoloring the foliage. Furthermore, there are not extremely deadly diseases threatening T. cordata. Some diseases, such as anthracnose which causes browning on the leaves near the veins, or verticillium which causes death in the branches, effect the species but are not overwhelming.

Gilman, Edward F., and Dennis G. Watson. “Tilia Cordata.” Tilia Cordata (2007): 557-61. US Department of Agriculture, October 1994.

“Tilia Cordata.” Plants for a Future. 2012. <>. 23 April 2016.

“Tilia Cordata.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. <>. 25 April 2016.

“Tilia Cordata Fact Sheet.” Tilia Cordata Fact Sheet. Virginia Tech, 2015. <>. 18 April 2016.

“Tilia Cordata Distribution Map.” EUForGen. Biodiversity International. 23 April 2016. <>.

Media and Arts