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Tree to 20 m tall. Bark dull grey, developing criss-cross ridges in maturity. Twigs stout (3–6 mm), green or red-flushed, glabrous. Buds large (13–16 mm long), with two scales exposed and a part of a third, shining, fringed with hair at the tip. Leaves large (9–19.5 × 8.5–12.5 cm), orbicular to ovate; marginal teeth shallow and even, with apiculate tips 0.7–1.4 mm long; dark matt green above and paler green beneath , glabrous or with sparse stellate hairs, and with long rows of brown fasciculate hairs on the sides of the main veins. Floral bracts large, 6.5–15 × 1.2–3.3 cm, largely glabrous. Inflorescences hanging, with 9–13 flowers 15 mm across, beaker-shaped. Staminodes present. Fruits large (1.2–1.4 × 0.8–1.1 cm), obovoid with prominent ribs, the surface weakly mamillate and covered in a short dense grey tomentum (Pigott 2012, Flora of China 2018).
Distribution China Sichuan, Yunnan
Habitat Mountain forests, 1800-2500 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
As recorded in the rather full account given by Clarke (1988) Tilia nobilis is best known to western dendrologists from Emei Shan, Sichuan. Roy Lancaster (Lancaster 1989) describes a 12 m tree growing by a path, from which he (L 521) and Keith Rushforth (KR 226) took scion wood. From these collections it has become well established in UK gardens; Keith Rushforth’s tree in his arboretum in West Devon had reached 9 m by 2013 (Tree Register 2018). It seems to grow slowly but steadily, and is the only Chinese lime with big leaves green underneath, likeliest to be confused with northern and Mexican variants of T. americana, but differing in the more extensive patches of hair under the vein-axils. The floral bract is very large, and proportionally the flowers appear quite small, although they are followed by massive fruit. Interestingly, it is an octoploid, 2n = 328 (Pigott 2002). It is to be hoped that this intriguing tree will go on to develop to full potential in cultivation and become more widely available in the nursery trade.
IS IT GROWN IN CONTINENTAL EUROPE, eg WESPELAAR, OR IN N AMERICA?