Plant of the Month May 2017

Dance around the maypole by the village lime tree – dance lime trees and shaped lime trees

Long-standing traditions in symbiosis with modern use

The ‘dance lime trees’, ‘storied lime trees’ or ‘shaped lime trees’ have been found from Northern to Central Germany to Switzerland since the 10th century. Today, the trees are impressive monuments and often played a central role in a village’s identity as a place of assembly and trials right up to the 20th century. The place for dancing in a village was located under and sometimes also in the lime tree. A special group among the storied lime trees are those on whose branches platforms have been erected. The dance floor was built into the lowest levels of the branches, the part of the tree that was intended for people, according to ancient mythology. Large, sturdy, wooden scaffolding or stone pillars were erected for the platforms to provide space for a whole musical chapel and dancers. The dance festivals were usually celebrated at the beginning of May. Martin Luther even mentioned the lime tree as a tree for dancing and fun (Laudert 2003).  

The tradition has its roots in Germanic spring rituals who saw the tree as a "demon of vegetation" and as a symbol of fertility and growth. The magic of the trees, their fragrance, the anticipation of fresh green twigs, and an awakening of nature are sensual experiences which are also familiar to people today.

A large and at the same time probably the oldest lime (Tilia platyphyllos) in Germany is now located in Schenklengsfeld (Hesse), about ten kilometres south-east of Bad Hersfeld. Over 1275 years in age, the tree is an impressive example of a dance line that has been ‘shaped’ over centuries. Trials were held for several centuries under this lime tree. Near this lime tree, a pillory was originally erected. The condemned ‘criminal who committed crimes on fields’ were chained to a post under the lime tree for one or several hours sometimes also for one or several days. This is accounted for by the discovery of shackles with which the condemned persons were chained to the pillory. Due to its distinctive nature, the linden tree is a natural monument.

Modern and internationally renowned designers have picked up the theme of ‘storied lime trees’ in their designs. Seven Tilia intermedia, recently stored at Bruns nursery with trunks measuring 70–80 cm in circumference, are now resting on Place du Marché inVilleneuve le Comte, near Paris.

(1st photo, lime, Schenklengsfeld, Hesse and photographer: Conrad Amber)