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Taxus baccata - Common Yew

Taxus baccata is a medium sized, evergreen conifer, native to Britain, much of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. It is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions including shade and chalk but not waterlogged or poor draining soil. It is widely used in landscaping as its relatively slow growth and tolerance of pruning make it an ideal plant for hedging and topiary.

Bright red, berry like fruits ripen in the autumn and are attractive to birds during the winter. Most parts of the plant are toxic, particularly if foliage is eaten by animals. Fatal poisoning is uncommon in humans though unless excess volumes of foliage are consumed!

Taxus baccata is the longest living plant in Europe with estimated ages between 2000 and 4000 years. However, no one can determine the exact ages as the trunk hollows with age, making a ring count impossible. This does not make the plant unstable though as once it reaches a certain size, new shoots appear at the base and grow, fusing into the main truck and acting like buttresses.

FACT: Most commonly, people associate Yews with churchyards. Ancient Britons planted them near temples and when Christianity came to Britain, the tradition continued. Some churches were built by existing plants. Around 500 churchyards in England have a yew tree which is older than the church itself, they are meant to be a symbol of everlasting life and resurrection.
FACT: Yew has a long history in England as the wood of choice for bow making. The heartwood is on the inside of the bow as it resists compression. The sapwood is on the outside as it resists stretching. Once all the British supplies had been exhausted, the wood was imported from Europe. Once the European supplies were exhausted, longbows were replace with firearms!

Plant Profile

Height: 10-20m

Demands: Tolerant of most conditions and soil types as long as well drained

Foliage: Needles are lanceolate, flat and dark green

Bark: Reddish-brown, flaking in small pieces

Fruit: Seeds are surrounded by a red, berry-like fruit.

Taxus baccata info sheet

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