A tree rarely to 17m tall. Bark dull grey, developing close, lumpy and corky ridges. Twigs quite slender (2–2.8 mm thick), usually with dense white stellate hairs. Buds with 2 exposed scales of about equal length, densely grey-tomentose. Leaves 5.5–12 × 4–8.5 cm, rather triangular and broadest near the base, which is usually cordate; marginal teeth quite long and usually forward-pointing; underleaf grey with stellate pubescence (mostly 8-armed), and with brown hairs under the veins. Floral bracts 5.5–11 × 1–2 cm, often sessile, densely covered beneath with grey-white stellate hairs. Inflorescence drooping, with 8–20 small cup-shaped flowers. Staminodes present. Fruit 8–10 mm, spherical, often weakly mamillate, with dense stellate hairs and a thick (0.8–1 mm) wall (Tang et al. 2007; Pigott 2012).
Distribution China Anhui, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang
USDA Hardiness Zone 7
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Data deficient (DD)
The Temple Lime is one of several native species that substituted in Chinese Buddhism for the tropical Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) under which the Buddha sat, and it remains associated with temple precincts, sometimes spreading into the protected woodland enclaves which surround them. ‘In its truly wild state the species is on the verge of extinction’ (Pigott 2012); it is classed ‘Vulnerable’ in the China plant Red List (IUCN 2019). There is a tradition that around 1190 CE the species was introduced to Japan (Elwes & Henry 1913), where a much larger number of trees have been planted (Pigott 2012). Maximowicz’s 1880 description was based on his own collection from cultivation in Yokohama, Honshu; at this stage the species had not yet been collected in China. His specific epithet honours the Dutch botanist Friedrich Miquel, a specialist in the flora of Indonesia during the Dutch colonial period.
Its distribution in China has been tricky to discover, partly due to cultivation around temples and partly due to confusion with other taxa, notably with hybrids involving T. oliveri, and with the recently described T. concinna, which is perhaps an allotetraploid derived from T. miqueliana × oliveri (Pigott 2012). Its native range in eastern China experiences warm, rainy, humid summers and mild winters with unpredictable rainfall. This contrasts with several better-known limes from northeastern China, which are adapted to more continental climates with decisively cold winters. A member of Section Astrophilyra, this is one of the smaller Tilia species. The leaf-shape is very variable, typically more triangular than most other limes. The degree of hairiness of the leaf undersurfaces is also variable.
In British cultivation, older examples have grown slowly and rather reluctantly, the champion being a rather spindly 13 m, dbh 34 cm at Killerton, Devon when measured in 2013. However, a 2000 planting in the National Collection at Peasmarsh Place, East Sussex has thrived remarkably, reaching 10 m, dbh 22 cm by 2018 (Tree Register 2018). In cultivation, ‘it is always unwise to accept Tilia identifications at face value unless you’ve checked it yourself’ (J. Grimshaw, pers. comm. 2020): this is especially true of rare, variable and historically misunderstood species such as T. miqueliana.
Elsewhere in Europe, Tilia miqueliana is recorded at Gothenburg Botanical Garden, Sweden, from a 1978 accession of cultivated material (Gothenburg Botanical Garden 2020). There are two younger trees, neither of known wild origin, at the Arboretum Wespelaar, Belgium (Arboretum Wespelaar 2020). A record of a huge tree at the Arboretum Tervuren, also in Belgium, measured at 26.4 m, dbh 94 cm in 2011 (monumentaltrees.com 2018), has to be considered suspect.
We can find no records of this species in North American collections, apart from a tree at the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts and its vegetative progeny, from Hers 1068. Pigott (2012) identifies it as T. concinna. Based on the climate of its natural range, this might be a lime to try in the American southeast, were material available.