Lime tree, Tilia sp. Ah… Just what is it? Since I moved to Cambridge from the U.S. five years ago, I have come to love the beautiful lime trees in Britain, often planted in avenues. But the name has been a bit of a puzzle. In America, a lime tree is a citrus tree that bears lime fruit!
After four years of volunteering with the Schools programme at the Botanic Garden, I was invited to train as a Garden Guide earlier this year. I have been provided with hours of training and lots of materials to read. I soon learned that the logo for the Botanic Garden is a lime leaf in honour of the first tree planted by the University's Vice-Chancellor, Rev Tatham, in 1846 to mark the Garden's opening. This tree still survives at the ceremonial, ornamental gates that mark the western end of the Main Walk.
So last week I decided to get to the bottom of my lime tree puzzle by doing a bit of research on the internet: 'Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. They are generally called lime in Britain and linden or basswood in North America.'
Aha! I have visited Berlin and walked along Unter den Linden - the boulevard lined with lime trees. It is starting to make sense. Then I came across this: 'The name of Linnaeus, the great botanist, was derived from a Tilia tree.' What a joy to find that the Garden logo had have a connection to my Swedish hero! A bit more digging revealed: 'Carl Linnaeus’s paternal grandfather, like most Swedish peasants and farmers of his times, had no surname and was known, in accordance with the old Scandinavian name system, as Ingemar Bengtsson, being the son of Bengt Ingemarsson. When his son, Carl’s father, Nils Ingemarsson, went to the University of Lund, he had to provide himself with a surname for registration purposes. He invented the name Linnaeus in allusion to a large and ancient Lime tree, known in the Småland dialect as a “linn”, which grew on the family property known in the 17th century as Linnegard. Other branches of the family took the names Lindelius and Tiliander from the same famous tree.'
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden logo, drawn by the highly respected botanical illustrator, Michael Hickey, has an enhanced meaning for me. When I see that leaf, I think of the first tree planted in our beloved Botanic garden as well as Carl Linnaeus, the father of Modern Taxonomy.
Now why is it called basswood in America? That’s another story…
By Peggy Martin, Trainee Volunteer Guide