English Yew

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English yew

English Yew

English Yew

(Taxus baccata)

Interesting Information About Plant:  

     A Yew is a tree or shrub of the genus Taxus in the family Taxaceae, while English Yew was the first to be described scientifically as Taxus Baccata. The English yew, like all the yews, contains highly poisonous berries which can be fatal to humans if they are ingested without removing the seeds. It is often found in churchyards and the plants live a very long time, often having been there before the churches were. Some suggestions as to why they are near churches are that they were planted at old pagan holy sites, where it was expedient for churches to be built. Some say that English yew was planted as a symbol of long life, or to drive off cattle from burial areas because of their poisonous berries.

     Speaking of Churches the yew has played a part in religion for a long time. The Greeks wove funeral wreaths from it in honor of Hecate (whose dominion was death). The Celts planted it in their holiest shrines, and believed it had numerous magical properties. Following the conversion of Celts to Christianity, many of their holy places converted as well. The ancient Yews that resided at these locations were preserved, maybe in an attempt to legitimize the new Christian faith.

Chelsea Gatt. This plant is a gymnosperm but does produce a fleshy seed coat for its seed.  It can be either a tree of shrub, depending to the desire for the plant.  It has the ability to provide good varnish and veneer.  The yew will grow in pretty much any light.  It will also propagate very easily from clippings and/or seed growth.

     The history of the English Yew is a very interesting one. It was used for the longbows of English archers. It is still today used for making bows and cabinetwork. The oldest known wooden tool was a spear made of Yew wood, dating back 50,000 years from Clacton-on-Sea, England.  Robin Hood used a bow of Yew to win the Maid Marion, and they were wedded beneath the branches of a Yew. Upon his death, he was laid to rest beneath a Yew plant.

     There are also many medicinal uses for Yew plants, dating back centuries. Historically, Native Americans used Yew to treat ailments like rheumatism, fever, and even arthritis. The Japanese used Yew leaves for things like diabetes and to induce abortions. Paclitaxel and docetaxel are drugs derived from the Pacific and the English Yew, and they are very effective against many types of cancer. Both plants interfere with the process of mitosis, but they go about it differently.

     The berries, twigs, and cones of the Juniper plant may be used for human consumption.  Juniper berries have been used as a diuretic, stimulant, astringent, nausea, skin problems, aches and pains, anti-rheumatism, and antiseptic.   Juniper was also used as a blood tonic by the Great Basin Indians.  The Pacific Northwest Indians used Juniper to treat the flu.  Juniper was also used to make baskets, textiles, firewood, and building materials for many southwestern tribes.  Although Juniper extracts can be fatal in small amounts, it was used as a meat preservative and to make gin.  Juniper is also used during religious ceremonies and is worn by the “medicine man” of the tribe.


Plant Growth Habit: Woody Shrub -Tree

Height at Maturity: Between 3-25 feet depending if used as a shrub or tree

Life Span: Perennial

Seasonal Habit: Evergreen Perennial  

Growth Habitat: Partial Sun   -   Shade

Manner of Culture:  Landscape Shrub

Thorns on Younger Stem: No

Cross Section of Younger Stem:  Roundish   

Stem (or Trunk) Diameter: Between The Diameter of a Pencil and a Broom-Handle 

Produces Brownish Bark:  Yes  

Bark Peeling in Many Areas: No

Characteristics of Mature (Brownish) Bark: Patchy Bark – Rough Bark   

Type of Leaf: Needle-Like 

Length of Leaf (or Leaflet):  Less than Length of a Credit Card 

Leaf Complexity:  Simple 

Edge of Leaf:  Smooth 

Leaf Arrangement:  Alternate

Leaf has Petiole:   Yes 

Patterns of Main-Veins on Leaf (or Leaflet): Parallel 

Leaf Hairiness:  No Hairs

Color of Foliage in Summer:  Green 

Change in Color of Foliage in October: No Change    

Flowering Season: Spring 

Flowers: Single 

Type of Flower: Like a Pine Cone  

Color of Flower:  Male Are Small Yellow & Female Extremely Small White 

Shape of Individual Flower:  Bilaterally Symmetrical  

Size of Individual Flower: Smaller than a Quarter  

Sexuality: Male and Female on Same Plant

Size of Fruit: Smaller than a Quarter 

Fruit Fleshiness: Fleshy  

Shape of Fruit: Spherical- an aril

Color of Fruit at Maturity:  Red    

Fruit Desirable to Birds or Squirrels:  No   

Common Name(s):  English, European, or common Yew

Scientific Name:   Taxus baccata

Family Name (Scientific and Common): Taxaceae   (Yew family)

Continent of Origin:  Europe

Louisville Plants That Are Most Easily Confused With This One:  Canadian or American Yew, Bald Cypress, Elder,

and Box

Unique Morphological Features of Plant: The formation of a berry-like structure that surrounds a poisonous seed, but still is considered a gymnosperm.

Poisonous:  Part of Plant , the seed. 

Pestiness (weedy, hard to control): No


Page prepared by: 

Kevin Cashman & Mary Beth Craig

November 2004

Information - 502.452.8000
© Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY 2002-2004