Plantiago

Taxus Baccata: Explore Yew Trees in Our Detailed Plant Guide

mature European yew tree

Pronunciation:

Introduction

Taxus baccata, commonly known as the English yew or simply yew, is a conifer native to western, central, and southern Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran, and southwest Asia. In the USA, it is often referred to as the English yew. It is known by various regional names across its native range, such as “European yew” or simply “yew.”

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Classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Pinophyta
  • Class: Pinopsida
  • Order: Pinales
  • Family: Taxaceae
  • Genus: Taxus
  • Species: T. baccata

Description

Taxus baccata is an evergreen tree or shrub known for its longevity and dense, dark green foliage. It has significant ornamental value and is often used in landscaping and topiary. The wood of the yew tree is hard and durable, making it valuable for woodworking and crafting longbows in the past. It is not considered invasive or problematic where it is native but is valued for its beauty and historical significance.

Size

The English yew can grow up to 10-20 meters (33-66 feet) tall, with some ancient specimens reaching considerable sizes and ages, often several centuries old.

Leaves

The leaves are flat, dark green, and needle-like, arranged spirally on the stem, but with the leaf bases twisted to align the leaves in two flat rows either side of the stem.

Flower

The yew is dioecious, meaning that individual trees produce either male or female flowers, not both. Male flowers are small, spherical, and yellow, shedding pollen in the spring. Female flowers are more inconspicuous and green.

Fruit

The fruit is not a true berry but a modified conifer cone with a single seed surrounded by a fleshy, red aril. The aril is attractive to wildlife, particularly birds, which disperse the seeds.

Stem

The stem is typically straight with a reddish-brown, scaly bark. As the tree ages, the trunk can become very thick and fluted.

Cultivation and Care

Planting

Plant yews in the fall or early spring in a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball. Ensure proper spacing to accommodate the mature size of the plant.

Soil Preference

Yews prefer well-drained soil but are adaptable to a wide range of soil types, including clay, loam, or sandy soils. They can tolerate a range of soil pH from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.

Watering

Water newly planted yews regularly to establish a strong root system. Once established, they are relatively drought-tolerant but may need additional watering during prolonged dry spells.

Sun Requirements

Yews can grow in full sun to part shade, but they thrive best in dappled sunlight or partial shade.

Pruning

Prune yews in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Use sharp pruning shears or a saw for larger branches. Remove dead or diseased branches, shape the plant as desired, and thin out dense areas to allow light into the interior of the plant. Regular pruning helps maintain the health and appearance of the yew.

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Propagation

Propagation is typically done by seed or cuttings. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken in late summer, treated with rooting hormone, and planted in a well-draining medium.

Health & Safety

All parts of Taxus baccata, except the red aril, are poisonous to humans and animals if ingested. The plant contains several toxic compounds, including taxine alkaloids. Ingestion can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, dry mouth, dilated pupils, abdominal pain, and can be fatal in severe cases. The aril is non-toxic, but the seed within is poisonous.

There are no thorns or spiky parts on the yew, and it is not known to cause contact dermatitis or other skin reactions.

Pests and Problems

Taxus baccata can be affected by pests such as the black vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) and yew scale (Parthenolecanium pomeranicum). These pests feed on the foliage and bark, causing damage and potentially weakening the plant. Control measures include good cultural practices, biological controls, and, if necessary, the use of pesticides. Additionally, root rot can be a problem in poorly draining soils.

Caresheet Data

General Information

Plant Name: taxus baccata
Etymology: Taxus: From Latin “taxus” meaning “yew tree.”
Baccata: From Latin “baccatus” meaning “bearing berries.”
Common Name: English Yew
Genus: Taxus
Species: baccata
Family: Taxaceae

Plant Characteristics

Height: 13-65 ft / 4-20 m / 157-787 in / 400-2000 cm
Width and Spread: Width: 12-20 ft / 3.7-6.1 m / 144-240 in / 365-609 cm
Plant Type: Common Name: English Yew
Family: Taxaceae
Native Range: Western, Central, and Southern Europe
USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-7
Growth Habit: Evergreen tree or shrub
Height: 10-20 meters (33-66 feet)
Spread: 10-20 meters (33-66
Habit/Form: Tree or shrub
Leaf Type: Linear, flat, dark green
Leaf Arrangement: Spiral
Leaf Shape: Linear to lanceolate
Leaf Margin: Entire
Leaf Color: Dark green
Fragrance: Yes; mild, resinous odor.
Stem Description: Slender, flexible, brown with reddish tinge, often with purple tones in mature plants, covered with small, scaly leaves.
Stem Is Aromatic: No
Texture: Coarse, scaly bark; needles are soft to the touch.
Leaf Feel: Soft, flat, and needle-like
Leaf Length: 1-4 cm
Leaf Description: Dark green, linear, flat, spirally arranged, 1-4 cm long, 2-3 mm broad, with a soft texture.
Hairs Present: No

Cultivation

Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Preference: Well-drained, moist, sandy loamy soil; pH range from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.
Water Requirements: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
Fertilizer Requirements: Well-drained soil with pH 5.5-7.5; apply balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 NPK in early spring; additional iron may be beneficial if foliage yellowing occurs.
Pruning Requirements: Prune in late summer or early fall; remove dead or diseased branches; shape lightly as needed.
Seed Germination Time: 1-3 months after cold stratification
Display/Harvest Time: September to November
Fruit/Seed Production: Seed production within red aril.
Growth Rate: Slow-growing
Growth Habit: Evergreen, coniferous tree with a dense, conical to columnar habit.
Root System Type: Taproot system with widespread lateral roots

Flower and Fruit Information

Fruit Type: Aril
Fruit Description: Bright red aril, partially enclosing a single, hard, dark brown seed.
Flower Color: Red (aril)
Flower Shape: Radially symmetrical
Flower Inflorescence: Dioecious with solitary, axillary male cones and terminal female cones that develop into aril-enclosed seeds
Flowering Season: April to May
Bloom Duration: 2-3 weeks
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Tolerance and Hardiness

Drought Tolerance: Moderate
Frost Tolerance: -20°C (-4°F)
Heat Tolerance: Not tolerant; prefers cool to moderate climates
Wind Tolerance: Moderate
Shade Tolerance: Intermediate
Salt Tolerance: Low to moderate
Soil Compaction Tolerance: Low
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6-7
Photoperiod Sensitivity: Not photoperiod sensitive

Wildlife and Landscape

Pollinator Attraction: Yes; bees, flies.
Wildlife Value: Taxus baccata provides cover and nesting sites for birds; its arils are eaten by birds and small mammals, but all other parts of the plant are toxic.
Problematic Insects: Taxus baccata moth (Argyresthia conjugella), Vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus), Black vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus), Taxus mealybug (Dysmicoccus wistariae)
Allelopathic Properties: Yes
Habitat Enhancement: Taxus baccata provides habitat and food for wildlife, stabilizes soil, and contributes to biodiversity.
Erosion Control Potential: Low
Landscape Location: Temperate regions, shaded areas, well-drained soils
Landscape Theme: Formal gardens; Topiary displays; Evergreen collections; Woodland gardens; Privacy screens; Hedge rows; Foundation plantings
Design Feature: Yes; topiary, hedges, ornamental trees.
Ethnobotanical Significance: Taxus baccata, commonly known as the European yew, has been used historically for its medicinal properties, particularly the bark and leaves which contain the compound taxol, an anti-cancer agent. It also holds cultural significance, often planted in churchyards and associated with immortality and spirituality. Wood from yew trees has been traditionally used for
Naturalization Ability: Low to moderate
Companion Planting Suitability: Taxus baccata (English yew) is not commonly used in companion planting due to its toxicity; it can be harmful to animals and nearby plant species.

Health and Safety

Edibility: No
Edible Parts: None; all parts of Taxus baccata are toxic if ingested.
Toxicity: Yes
Poison Parts of Plant: All parts except the aril (fleshy red fruit surrounding the seed)
Toxic to Humans: Yes
Toxic to Cats: Yes
Toxic to Dogs: Yes
Causes Contact Dermatitis: Yes
Air Purification Qualities: Limited; Taxus baccata is not known for strong air purification qualities.
Medicinal Properties: Anticancer (source of paclitaxel), anti-inflammatory
Thorniness or Spikiness: Neither thorny nor spiky

Sources and Additional Reading

  1. Taxus baccata – Plant Finder – Missouri Botanical Garden (www.missouribotanicalgarden.org)
  2. Taxus baccata – North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (plants.ces.ncsu.edu)
  3. Taxus (Yew) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (plants.ces.ncsu.edu)
  4. English yew | Evergreen, Coniferous, Taxus baccata | Britannica (www.britannica.com)
  5. Taxus baccata L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science (powo.science.kew.org)
  6. Taxus baccata | common yew Conifers/RHS Gardening (www.rhs.org.uk)
  7. Taxus baccata – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (www.sciencedirect.com)
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