Wildwood of England

 In Environment, Neolithic, Pagan Economy

The wildwood of England sounds rather like a Robin Hood film but stay with me. The wildwood describes the original forest after the Ice Age. None of this now exists in England and only a small area remains in Scotland. The US has only 1% of its wildwood remaining. You probably assumed, as I once did, that the first trees in Britain were pioneer species, such as silver birch. Then, over time, that the the oak dominated. This stalwart wood holding up so many old houses and building Drake’s ships is ingrained into our psyche. Not so, the first common trees after the birch were lime, namely Tilia cordata, usually called the small leaf lime.

The Lime

Most people know the lime as a street tree. It’s golden flowers often hang over the pavement, sweet scented and buzzing with bees. The heart shaped, soft, light green leaves shout spring is here. The tree is well behaved at first but errant with age, just like pensioners. The aging bole or trunk begins to sprout leafy suckers and these spread outwards, often blocking paths. The roots steadily swell and push up pavements. The decomposing leaves, as in my photograph, block drains in the autumn. There comes a point where the advantages could be outweighed by the disadvantages. This is why Sheffield Council has been cutting down mature lime street trees, to a public outcry.

The Linden

The Europeans love the lime but call it the Linden. Linden wood is venerated as ideal to carve, as our famous wood carver Grinling Gibbons also found. Because of warmer climates in Europe, the seeds of the tree are fertile; not so in Britain. This is why it has steadily declined. Most native lime trees remain only in Epping Forest and it is otherwise sporadic around the country. Street plantings often utilise other limes and not Tilia cordata, our native tree.

Honeydew

Your parked car may well identify the tree. Lime leaves are usually covered in aphids and they eject a sticky juice from their anus. This drops over cars and forms a honey like coating. In Sheffield, car owners blamed this sticky substance on the emissions from the nearby crematorium! This honeydew washes off easily enough but will damage paintwork if left on too long.

Bast Fibre

In my forthcoming book, Zuri in 2200 BC soaks the bark of lime in fresh water. This enables her to create fibre for making cord, yet it is a long and heavy process. This lime bast fibre was still utilised in Scandinavia until the 1950’s. Other tree bark could have been used but lime produced the strongest fibre. This was the case until much stronger cord, such as sisal, was imported and destroyed the local bast market. The lime, once the principal tree covering our land, is now almost a stranger to us.

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