Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 629 Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Common Names: Japanese plum yew, Harrington plum yew, cow-tail pine, plum yew Family: Cephalotaxaceae (plum yew Family)
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Japanese plum yew
A low-growing cultivar of Japanese plum yew nicely complements the armless semi-nude beauty of a concrete Greco-Roman goddess of love.


There are at least three named varieties and several cultivars of Japanese plum yew. C. harringtonia var. drupacea is a shrub to 15 ft (4.6 m) high with a rounded crown, and shorter, blunt tipped needles to 1 in (2.5 cm) long. Cultivar 'Nana' is a low, spreading shrub that sends up suckers, forming a thicket. 'Prostrata' forms a low mound growing to about 2 ft (0.6 cm) tall with a spread of 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m). One of the strangest of the plume yews is 'Fastigiata', a columnar or vase-shaped shrub with long branches originating near the base and pointing straight up. The branches are held tightly together and the leaves are bent downward and arranged in spiral radiating whorls, like bottlebrushes. 'Fastigiata' gets about 8 ft (2.4 m) tall and 3-5 ft (0.9-1.5 m) wide.

'Fastigiata' foliage
The leaves of 'Fastigiata' are arranged in spiral whorls.


Japanese plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, is native to Japan, Korea and eastern China, where it grows in the forest understory.


The plum yews are slow growers, some taking as long as 10 years to reach 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in height. They grow best in sandy, slightly acidic soils. They should be sheltered from strong winds. Light: Japanese plum yew will thrive in a semi-shady to shady position in warm climates, but should have more sun in cooler regions. Moisture: Regular water and well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. New growth in spring will be damaged by a late frost. 'Nana' is said to be hardy to zone 5. Propagation: Seeds can take 2 years to germinate, and they require a pre-germination chilling period. Plant seeds in labeled pots and leave them outside through the winter and be patient! Plum yews also can be propagated from cuttings. Use tip cuttings of upward growing semi-ripe wood in summer or autumn. Cuttings from lateral shoots may grow into prostrate, creeping shrubs.
plum yew
The needles of C. harringtonia var. drupacea are arranged in two rows, held in a V-shaped trough.


Japanese plum yew has the potential to be a very useful landscape plant in the southern US. It is more tolerant of heat than the true yews (Taxus), more interesting than most of the junipers, and more tolerant of shade than almost any needle evergreen. And deer don't eat it! Japanese plum yew tolerates severe pruning, and makes a good hedge in a semi-shady or even shady area. It is well suited for foundation plantings. The cultivar 'Fastigiata' makes an interesting specimen that is sure to attract attention anywhere.

The fleshy, plumlike fruits are a popular food in Japan, where plum yews are cultivated for that purpose. Plum yews are dioecious and it is necessary to have at least one male plant for every five females to insure a good seed crop.


The plum yews are similar to, and closely related to, the yews, family Taxaceae. There are only seven species in the genus Cephalotaxus and Cephalotaxus is the only genus in the family Cephalotaxaceae.

Steve Christman 10/1/07

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Cephalotaxus species profiled on Floridata:

Cephalotaxus harringtonia

( Japanese plum yew, Harrington plum yew, cow-tail pine, plum yew )

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