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A small tree, to about 10 m tall. Bark brownish-grey, developing narrow vertical ridges in maturity. Twigs slender (1–2 mm thick), green or red, shining and glabrous, or with sparse white stellate hairs on weaker shoots. Buds 5–7 mm long, usually with two scales visible, red and shining. Leaves 4-9 × 3-7 cm, triangular ovate and widest around the base which is obliquely truncate or even slightly cuneate rather than cordate; marginal teeth small and regular with apiculate tips 0.3–1 mm long; upper surface green and smooth, lower surface pale green, not glaucous, with tufts of brown hair under the vein axils. Floral bracts 5-11 × 1-2 cm, usually elliptical, with a slender stalk 0.5–2 cm long; both surfaces glabrous, pale green. Inflorescence drooping, with slender stalks branching 3 times at wide angles so that the small flowers (about 15 in number, 10–13 mm wide) are well-spaced. Staminodes present. Fruits small (6–8 × 4–6 mm), ellipsoidal, unribbed, covered in short dense hairs; wall fragile, 0.2–0.3 mm thick (Pigott 2012, Flora of China 2018).
Distribution China Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan
Habitat Mountain forests
USDA Hardiness Zone 7
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
One of several east Asian relatives of the Eurasian Tilia cordata, T. paucicostata is described as a small tree in the wild. Its rather small leaves, green beneath, are not so showily ornamental as many Chinese limes’, though the example in the lime collection at Dibbins Wood, Deene Park, Northamptonshire, has grown into a notably graceful tree, 14 m × 31 cm dbh by 2009 (Tree Register 2018). Larger examples grow in the lime avenue at Thorp Perrow in North Yorkshire (22 m × 47 cm dbh in 2014) and at the Glasnevin National Botanic Garden in Dublin (16 m × 51 cm dbh in 2012). These trees were planted in 1936 and 1914 respectively and are probably grafts from the tree grown at Veitch’s Coombe Wood Nursery from the original introduction, of seed gathered by Wilson in northwest Hubei in 1901 (Bean 1914).
Donald Pigott (2012) distinguishes subsp. dictyoneura, with remarkably small leaves only about 30 mm wide and fewer flowers per cyme, and subsp. yunnanensis, with a tomentose underleaf; neither subspecies is known to be in cultivation in the west.