Summer treasure 1: Lime tree flowers

Lime tree2/7/2018 Since the appearance of the first shiny, translucent lime leaves in April, which I considered including in my spring highlights, I have had no thought of writing about lime trees. But when I walked along a country lane during a short break in the Norfolk Broads last week and passed under a lime tree in flower, it stopped me in my tracks.

I heard it first, and then smelled it. Only then did I look up to see what was above my head. They are not the most eye-catching of flowers – except when lit up by the evening sun – and I find it hard to use the word ‘blossom’ to describe them, though strictly speaking it is the correct term. I associate this word with colourful clusters of small flowers covering a tree, such as fruit tree blossom, which differs greatly from lime flowers. But the bees love them, and the smell is heavenly.

I think it is the only large tree that I have heard so alive with insect activity. I don’t know if this is because lime flowers are a particular favourite of insects, or because there is a lull in pollen sources in early summer, or because the sheer size of the tree and the abundance of its flowers mean that more bees can forage there at once. In any case, this occasion reminded me that almost exactly a year ago I took shelter from the rain under some giant limes in Crowfield churchyard. Even then the hum didn’t stop.

Lime flowersPassing some other lime trees that showed not the slightest intention of flowering, I suddenly realised that I knew next to nothing about them, beyond the distinction between small-leaved limes and large-leaved limes. I wondered if perhaps there were male and female trees and whether this accounted for the lack of flowers on some of them, or whether they were different species with different flowering habits.

I had to go and look them up. I learned that limes are hermaphrodites – the flowers on one tree contain both male and female reproductive parts – and there is a hybrid of the small-leaved and large-leaved limes, called the common lime, which is often planted but grows occasionally of its own accord in the wild. I think it is likely that both trees were common limes, as I am certain they weren’t small-leaved limes, and fairly certain they weren’t large-leaved either. As for the absence of flowers on one of the trees, perhaps they are erratic in their flowering habits. After all, one tree is as different from another as one person is from another.

When I got home, I went straight to my own lime tree. I have only one in my garden, and a majestic one it is: standing underneath it is like being under a giant umbrella. But the flowers had already transformed into seed
capsules. I find it hard to believe I missed them, but I suppose this is the price of a few weeks of hectic activity.

I hope I have learnt my lesson. Despite the relative busyness of the spring and summer months, I must make regular time to see, hear and be still. One missed annual treasure is one too many.


16/7/2018 Update
Somehow I managed both to mistake lime flower buds for seed capsules, and forget the golden rule that everything in my garden flowers several weeks later than anywhere else.

As I was walking back from The Hobbets last night, I noticed a strong fragrance as I passed along my garden hedge. For a moment I looked around, wondering where it was coming from. I stopped to take a closer look at the lime tree, knowing but not quite believing what I would see. It was in flower.

I was simultaneously shocked at my own ignorance, and over the moon that I hadn’t missed its flowering after all. I hastened to the driveway gate and walked back through the wildflower meadow to the lime tree, where I stood under its heavy green canopy, closed my eyes and breathed in deeply.