1302 Taxus baccataCommon Names: English yew,Irish yew,common yew Family: Taxaceae (yew Family)
The naturally occurring English yew is a broadly cone shaped needle-leafed evergreen with many horizontal, wide spreading branches. Wild trees can get up to 70 ft (21 m) tall. English yew has purplish bark and young shoots that remain green for 2-3 years. The needles, flattened and pointed on their tips, are shiny dark green above, paler beneath, and about an inch (2.5 cm) long. They are arranged in two ranks on a flat plane on opposite sides of the shoots. Yews are dioecious: The male plants produce small yellowish cones in leaf axils. Female plants produce hard little seeds that are nearly enveloped by juicy red seed coats (called arils), about a half inch (1.2 cm) in diameter.
There are more than a hundred cultivars of English yew available in the trade. Most cultivars are dense and relatively compact. Only the female clones produce the attractive little red fruits. ‘Adpressa’ is a female shrub to 20 ft (6 m) tall with shorter, wider needles. ‘Fastigiata’, known as Irish yew and also a female, grows as a skinny column to 30 ft (9 m) tall. For a low growing mound that can be used as a ground cover, try the female ‘Repandens’, which is among the most cold hardy clones. ‘Aurea’, also known as golden yew, has young shoots that are decidedly yellow. ‘Cavendishii’ is low growing with pendulous branch tips that curve downward. ‘Pygmaea’ is a very small densely branched shrub. ‘Nana’ grows as a little pyramid only 3 ft (1 m) tall.
English yew has been crossed with Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) to produce the hybrid species, T. x media, from which dozens of significant cultivars have been selected. See the Floridata profile for Japanese yew.
Taxus baccata (English yew) is native to Europe and North Africa. It has been cultivated, and clones selected, for more than 1000 years.
Light: The agreeable English yews will grow in deep shade to full sun. Moisture: English yew can be grown in any well drained soil from alkaline to acidic. Established plantings can tolerate moderate drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 8 . Some cultivars are hardy to zone 6, and the hybrid species, T. x media, is hardy to zone 5. English yew may suffer some discoloration during bouts of exceptional cold. Propagation: To propagate the species, plant seeds as soon as ripe, preferably outside. Germination can take two years. All cultivars are propagated vegetatively. Take cuttings from semi-ripe shoots in summer. Cuttings from upright growing shoots are more likely to grow upright. For prostrate cultivars, choose cuttings from side shoots. Some cultivars are grafted onto seedlings of the species.
Wild type English yews are grown as specimen trees. Prostrate cultivars are used as ground covers, and many of these perform adequately in dry shade. Shrubby cultivars make good hedges and some are used in topiary. Needless to say, they tolerate hard pruning, which is best done in summer. English yews and the hybrid selections are used as foundation plantings; as visual screens; in broad, sweeping masses; as sentry columns along driveways; and as facer plantings to hide the bases of structures and larger trees and shrubs.
The yews are among the most desirable of needle-leaf evergreens. English yews are noteworthy for their tolerance of urban air pollution, poor dry soils and even salt spray. Yews are relatively slow growers, have few insect and disease issues, are cold hardy, easy to propagate, and are available in a myriad of habits, sizes and shades of green. One drawback: Yews, although poisonous to most animals, are relished by white-tailed deer which have been known to eat them to the ground. The wood is sometimes used for carving and to make hunting bows.
There are only eight species of yews and they are among the most popular ornamental evergreens. English yews have been cultivated for centuries in England, and some specimens are known to be more than 3000 years old.
The fleshy seed coats are eaten by birds and small mammals which then distribute the seeds.
Yew foliage is toxic if ingested, and has been known to kill livestock that eat even a little bit. On the other hand, the fleshy red arils are not poisonous and are actually quite sweet to the taste.
Steve Christman 2/16/18