Small-leaved Lime is an indicator of ancient woodland, as it rarely sets seed and so is unable to spread. It has heart shaped leaves, hence its specific name relating to the heart, which gives us the word ‘cardiac’. It was commonly known as ‘pry’ in the Middle Ages. The generic name Tilia may be derived from the Greek ‘ptilon’ meaning a feather, by reference to the bract that bears the fruit. Its flowers are scented (W.H. Fitch 1919) and attract bees, but only in exceptionally hot years does it set seed. It was well known to our ancestors who used the fibres in the phloem, called the bast, to produce a very strong rope.
Almost certainly lime bast rope was used to drag the large rocks from South Wales to Salisbury Plain in the construction of Stonehenge. The closely related tropical plant, Corchorus capsularis, produces the fibre known as jute, which is woven to produce sacks. The wood has almost no grain and is ideal for carving. The famous works by Grinling Gibbons, 1648-1721 adorn many of England’s stately homes. A particularly good collection is at Chatsworth House. It has also been the favourite wood for the construction of the mechanism in the piano.
The common lime trees (Tilia x europaea) found in the centre of Nailsea were formed as a cross between the small-leaved lime and Tilia platyphyllos, the Large-leaved Lime, which is native in the North of England.