Taxus baccata (common yew) description


Foliage and pollen cones from a decorative tree, Seattle (USA) [C.J. Earle, 1999.03].


A yew maze at Hever Fortress, UK, planted ca. 1905 [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.15].


The Ankerwycke Yew, UK, one of many designated Nice British Bushes. Basal girth is about Eight m. Positioned throughout from the Thames River at Runnymede, the place the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.16].


One other view of the Ankerwycke Yew, exhibiting all the tree. That is Aljos Farjon standing on the base of it [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.15].


The biggest of the 4 Borrowdale Yews, Cumbria, UK. These timber have been the topics of Wordsworth’s poem “Yew Bushes”. This explicit tree was closely broken throughout a storm in January 2005, however on the time of this picture, in 2010, nonetheless appeared fairly wholesome [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.19].


Crown of the Nice Yew at Beltingham, Northumberland, UK [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.19].


Stem of the Nice Yew at Beltingham. An 1884 newspaper account famous the presence of the iron band to strengthen the tree [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.19].


Epicormic sprouts on the trunk of one of many Borrowdale Yews. Its prolific means to sprout on this approach could also be one motive yews are sometimes used as symbols of everlasting life [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.19].


Observe the fused department. The flexibility of yew to fuse with itself, to sprout from just about any residing bark floor, and to ship roots into its personal decaying wooden, permits a tree to persist as a residing particular person for a for much longer time than could be recorded by the tree’s personal rings. Thus this can be very troublesome to derive an correct age estimate for an previous yew [C.J. Earle, 2010.06.20].


Yews in habitat masking a hillside within the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain [Miguel A. Vizcay, Facebook post 2020.02.28].


A Steinway piano with a yew veneer case.


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Conservation status

Taxus baccata

Linnaeus 1753

Widespread names

European, English, or frequent yew (Hartzell 1991).

Taxonomic notes

The hybrid T. baccata × T. cuspidata is T. × media (Hils 1993). All yew species are fairly comparable. Pilger (1916) described all of them as subspecies of T. baccata, reserving subspecies eubaccata for the populations handled right here.


Primarily dioecious evergreen timber 10-20(-40) m tall and as much as four m dbh. Crown usually pyramidal, turning into irregular with age; however many cultivated kinds depart dramatically from this. Bark skinny, scaly, brown. Leaves flat, organized spirally however showing 2-ranked, 10-40 × 2-Three mm, darkish inexperienced. Pollen cones globose, 3-6 mm diameter, shedding pollen in early spring. Seed cone consists of a single seed surrounded by a tender, vivid purple aril 8-15 mm lengthy. Arils mature progressively 6-9 months after pollination, and seeds are dispersed by birds (L’Herbier Virtuel 2008).

Distribution and Ecology

Britain to N Iran (Silba 1986); extensively cultivated in North America (Hils 1993), and naturalized in USA: Washington (PLANTS database 2009.03.31). Hardy to Zone 6 (chilly hardiness restrict between -23.2°C and -17.8°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001). In Croatia, Slovenia, and Poland, it’s protected by legislation.

Massive tree

The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland, has a nominal girth of 15.Eight m. The trunk is riven in two halves and far of the heartwood is gone, so this determine implies a considerably larger basal space than the tree actually possesses. It seems (based mostly in {a photograph} in [Hartzell 1991]) to be about 13 m tall with a crown unfold of about 20 m (Hartzell 1991).

Knowledge on two different U.Okay. timber are: 29 m tall and 89 cm dbh for a tree at Belvoir Fortress, Leics.; and 13 m tall, 334 cm dbh for a tree at Ulcombe Church, Kent (Mitchell et al. 1990).

Some yews in a particular reserve in Hosta, on the Russian coast of the Black Sea (previously a sacred grove of the Shapsug individuals), are greater than 40 m excessive (Vladimir Dinets e-mail 1998.01.10).


The yew is a tremendous instance of a tree to which nice age is usually attributed with out a lot in the best way of exhausting proof. The oldest identified yews have invariably misplaced most of their heartwood to decay and in any occasion are typically remoted people, often rising in locations which have been considered sacred since earlier than the Christian period. Consequently, tree ring-based age estimation is often impractical or unimaginable. A number of researchers have tried to estimate ages by extrapolation from noticed development charges, a really doubtful proposition in view of the truth that when tree ring knowledge can be found they often present extrapolated age estimates to be gross exaggerations. Nonetheless, it appears very possible that most of the largest yews encountered across the Christian shrines of the British Isles have been actually planted through the pre-Christian period by Celtic teams who noticed the yew as sacred. It’s due to this fact believable that yews aged 2000 years or extra happen within the British Isles. An age of 4000 years has been attributed, with out a lot foundation, to the Tisbury Yew in Wiltshire and the Crowhurst Yew in Surrey, each in England (Hartzell 1991).



The oldest identified picket device is a spear manufactured from yew wooden, about 400,000 years previous, from Clacton-on-Sea, England (Allington-Jones 2015). Archeological excavations have discovered discovered yew bows and knives in Swiss lake dwellings from 10,000 years in the past. Traditionally, yew bows have been the weapon of alternative for each looking and warfare all through most of Europe till the invention of firearms. Yew was additionally employed in a much less forthright method, as a poison, used for assassination, suicide, as an arrow poison, and to poison fish and mammals. Attributable to its hardness, yew wooden was used for shuttles, cogs, axle-trees, and pulley-pins. The colourful wooden (purple heartwood, white sapwood) was used to veneer furnishings, to make lute our bodies, bowls, tankards, combs, device handles, pegs, and varied artwork objects. As famous under, it was utilized in some ways by varied religions, and sure yew objects akin to drinking-cups are nonetheless considered having a sure non secular efficiency. It was used medicinally to deal with viper bites, hydrophobia (rabies) and coronary heart illnesses, and as an abortifascient. At the moment, its principal use is as a decorative plant. Many cultivars exist, and it’s a most well-liked topic for topiary. It’s also identified to include the anti-cancer drug taxol, however has not been extensively exploited on this connection (Hartzell 1991).

The foliage and seeds include a number of alkaloids, specifically taxine, very toxic, which alters to hydrotaxine by hydrolysis; additionally one glucoside, taxicatine. The wooden, bark, foliage and seeds are poisonous. The foliage is the principal supply of taxine. Previous and desiccated foliage is extra toxic than younger and recent foliage. Poisoning is frequent in animals. Horses, asses and mules are extraordinarily delicate and could be killed in lower than one hour. Rabbits, guinea-pigs and cats are insensitive to taxine. In people, the yew generates digestive, nervous, respiratory and cardiovascular issues which may end up in loss of life. Signs embody excitation, hyperventilation, and tachycardia, adopted by deceleration of the guts, hypotension, nausea, abdomen pains, cramps, giddinesses, colic, violent diarrhoea, dizzy spells, convulsions, coma and loss of life (L’Herbier Virtuel 1999-2008).

The purple aril surrounding the seed could be eaten simply as it’s like delicacy with the proviso of not chewing the seed. It’s sweetened and really mucilaginous. The arilles, faraway from their seeds, have diuretic and laxative results (L’Herbier Virtuel 1999-2008).


As seen within the pictures on this web page, there are some exceptional yews within the British isles. A wonderful useful resource for locating them is that this interactive map at The Woodland Belief, which catalogues many exceptional British timber (largely angiosperms). You can too search by species, and there are pictures of a lot of the timber.

Reservations containing important populations of untamed yew have been established in Wierzchlas Forest on Mukrz Lake, Polska (Poland); close to Nice Fatra and within the Bakony Forest of Magyarország (Hungary); and close to Kolomya in Ukraine (Hartzell 1991).

A very good location in southern France is the Massif de la Sainte-Baume, positioned E of Aubagne which is 20 km from Marseille. Paths go up the Massif from the Monasterio. The previous protected forest is on the N aspect of the massif. All alongside the paths there are large Taxus baccata combined with Ilex aquifolium beneath a cover of giant Fagus sylvatica. The paths result in a summit cave with a sanctuary inside the place there are an altar and relics of Maria-Magdalena who is alleged to have lived and died there (Réjean Drouin e-mail 2013.12.16).


T. baccata has performed a serious position in a number of spiritual traditions. This may occasionally have occurred as a result of the tree is toxic, valued for quite a lot of medicinal functions, and symbolic of everlasting life resulting from its evergreenness, distinctive longevity, and the wooden’s resistance to decay. Thus the tree unites of loss of life (by poison) with everlasting life, an idea nicely explored by Laqueur (2015). The Greeks wove funeral wreaths from it in honor of Hecate, whose dominion was loss of life. The Celts used its wooden for for votive and funerary artifacts, planted it of their holiest shrines (or maybe selected its groves to web site these shrines), and attributed to it a number of magical properties memorialized of their folklore. Following conversion of the Celts to Christianity, most of the Celtic shrines have been appropriated as websites of church buildings and different Christian shrines, and historical yews resident at these areas have been preserved – maybe to additional legitimize the brand new faith. Regardless of the motive, this cultural preservation of historical yews accounts for the existence of the oldest and largest identified people (Hartzell 1991).

Some palynological proof means that the yew was considerably extra plentiful in Europe through the late Pleistocene (10,000 years in the past) (Hartzell 1991).

Robin Hood used a bow of yew to win the Maid Marion, to whom he was betrothed beneath the branches of a yew. At his loss of life, he was buried beneath a yew. This and far more can be found in Hartzell’s exceptional ebook “The Yew Tree” (Hartzell 1991).


Allington-Jones, Lu. 2015. The Clacton Spear: the final 100 years. Archeological Journal 172(2):273-296.

L’Herbier Virtuel,, accessed 1998.12.23, now defunct. A revised model of the web page could be discovered at, accessed 2008.09.16.

Laqueur, Thomas W. 2015. Beneath the Yew Bushes’ Shade. Paris Overview, out there, accessed 2017.12.27; revealed as an besides from Laqueur’s ebook “The Work of the Useless.”

Mitchell, A.F., V.E. Hallett, and J.E.J. White. 1990. Champion timber within the British Isles. Forestry Fee Area E-book 10.

See additionally

Elwes and Henry 1906-1913 on the Biodiversity Heritage Library (Pictures). Observe that they deal with all yews as Taxus baccata, however the majority of their dialogue addresses this species in Europe. This sequence of volumes, privately printed, gives a number of the most partaking descriptions of conifers ever revealed. Though they solely deal with species cultivated within the U.Okay. and Eire, and the taxonomy is a bit dated, nonetheless these accounts are thorough, treating such subjects as species description, vary, varieties, exceptionally previous or tall specimens, exceptional timber, and cultivation. Regardless of being over a century previous, they’re typically correct, and are illustrated with some exceptional pictures and lithographs.

I extremely suggest you go to the web site of the Historical Yew Group.

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