In fact, if we crinkle our eyes right, the linden tree (Tilia) is a tree of Christmas moments in both hemispheres – flowering in early summer and with the wood being a traditional medium for carving the most beautiful Father Christmas figures in Russia. And it gives me the perfect opportunity to wish all my readers, near and far, a peaceful and safe Christmas and a joyous start to 2020!
Sometimes also called lime trees (basswood in North America), these are no relation to the fruiting citrus trees, but rather grow into large specimens with copious quantities of small, fragrant flowers in early summer. There are native varieties to be found in the temperate parts of Europe, Asia and North America and ancient leaf fossils – 70 million years old – have been found in Siberia.
We noticed them last year in Stockholm and later on a day trip to Berlin were reminded that the famous central city street is called Unter den Linden, literally Under the Linden (trees). The first trees were planted here in 1647 and from 1701 it started to take shape as the city’s grandest street – which it remained until World War 2 – with a wide, pedestrian avenue dividing the street where people may stroll ‘unter den linden’.
In the 1920s, this was the home of Berlin’s famous cabaret halls and where people like Marlene Dietrich got their start. However, the linden trees were disappearing in the 1930s, thanks to an underground-train tunnel being built, while the rest were destroyed by bombing or taken for firewood during the war. And then came the wall, which effectively cut the street into two dead ends for almost 30 years.
Today, Unter den Linden is again a tree-lined boulevard and central to Berlin, thanks to trees planted in the 1950s and with much building restoration work since the end of the war and then again after reunification, with some still ongoing.
The great Swedish botanist Linneaus took his name from the linden tree, known as ‘linn’ in Swedish. Read about his life in this earlier post. And the tree is a national emblem for Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, while the name of the German city Liepzig has its root in an old name for the tree.
Slavs used to plant linden trees close to important places such as churches and homes and believed lightning would not hit the holy tree, while Germanic peoples held councils and court sessions under linden trees, believing the tree would help establish the truth. If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link to a detailed document about the symbolism of the linden tree (opens as a pdf).
Besides being highly perfumed, the tree’s flowers can also be used to make tea, while the leaves are apparently edible.