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Taxus baccata

Previously known as:

  • Taxus aurea
  • Taxus columnaris
Phonetic Spelling
TAKS-us ba-KA-ta
This plant has high severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

English yew is an evergreen, conifer, conical-shaped, small tree or large shrub that reaches 30 to 60 feet in height. It has dense spreading branches with dark green linear needle-like leaves. This plant is usually dioecious. It is classified as a conifer; however, only the male plant has yellowish cone-like structures but is non-seed bearing. The female plant has scarlet red fleshy fruits or arils that cover a single seed. All parts of the plant are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested by humans, domestic animals, or livestock. This plant is a member of the Taxaceae or yew family.

The English yew is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. It is also known as the common yew or European yew. It may be found singularly. in small groves, in moist forest or slopes, and the mountains of the Mediterranean. 

The genus name, Taxus, is Latin and is the name for "yews." The species name, baccata, is Latin and means "fruit-bearing," and references the berry-like arils of the female plant.

The plant prefers moist, fertile, sandy, and loamy soils They grow best in full sun or partial shade but can tolerate full shade. It is intolerant to wet or poorly drained sites as well as extremely hot or cold temperatures. Plant this specimen in a sheltered area to reduce exposure to cold winter winds. Pruning is well-tolerated. The English yew can be propagated by stem or hardwood cuttings. It may be also propagated by seeds but requires cold-warm stratification of 120-365 days.

The mature bark of the English yew is scaly and reddish-brown, and the trunks are very thick. The shiny flat dark green needles are present year-round with the young foliage emerging as a light green. Birds enjoy the fruits and disperse the seeds.

In the 1960s, it was discovered that cancer treatment could be harvested from the bark of the yew. The bark and the leaves contain taxine alkaloids. The anti-cancer drug, Taxol, was developed in the 1990s.

There are cultivars of this species that are available as a dwarf, compact, variegated, or columnar. They are found more frequently than the actual species.  Consider the English yew as a specimen, accent, hedge, screen, or foundation plant. They have also been used as topiaries. Since this plant is poisonous consider the safety of children and pets when using this plant in a home landscape or park.  It is best to wear gloves and protective clothing when handling this plant. 

Seasons of Interest:

Foliage:  Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter      Fruits: Fall

Quick ID Hints: 

  • evergreen, conifer tree or shrub with wide-spreading branches
  • mature trees have scaly reddish-brown bark
  • shiny dark green, linear, needle-like leaves that measure about 0.5 to 1.5 inches long.
  • the leaves have a yellowish-green underside 
  • male plant has a yellowish cone-like structure at the leaf axils and is non-seed bearing
  • female plant has a red fleshy cup-shaped covering or aril that encapsulates the seed

Insect, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Potential pests include mealybugs, scale, and vine weevils. Twig and needle blights may occur. In wet or poorly drained soils, root rot may be problematic. In extremely cold temperatures and dry wind, the leaves may suffer winter burn, particularly in exposed or unsheltered sites.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Amersfoort'
    dwarf shrub, upright with irregular habit
  • 'Fastigiata'
    upright, narrow column, needles dark green
  • 'Repandens'
    dwarf, spreading form with horizontal branches
  • 'Repandens Aurea'
    low growing, variegated leaves green with yellow to cream edging
  • 'Standishii'
    columnar tree or shrub, compact, leaves golden-yellow to yellow-green on the undersides
'Amersfoort', 'Fastigiata', 'Repandens', 'Repandens Aurea', 'Standishii'
Tags:
#poisonous#full sun tolerant#specimen#conifer#low maintenance#winter interest#slopes#accent plant#topiary#showy fruits#hedges#poisonous fruits#neutral ph#needled evergreen#foundation planting#red fruits#non-flowering#screening#evergreen shrub#evergreen tree#bird friendly#partial shade tolerant#problem for children#problem for horses#heat intolerant#wind damage prone#woodland garden#frost intolerant#problem for cattle#poisonous if ingested#poisonous leaves#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Amersfoort'
    dwarf shrub, upright with irregular habit
  • 'Fastigiata'
    upright, narrow column, needles dark green
  • 'Repandens'
    dwarf, spreading form with horizontal branches
  • 'Repandens Aurea'
    low growing, variegated leaves green with yellow to cream edging
  • 'Standishii'
    columnar tree or shrub, compact, leaves golden-yellow to yellow-green on the undersides
'Amersfoort', 'Fastigiata', 'Repandens', 'Repandens Aurea', 'Standishii'
Tags:
#poisonous#full sun tolerant#specimen#conifer#low maintenance#winter interest#slopes#accent plant#topiary#showy fruits#hedges#poisonous fruits#neutral ph#needled evergreen#foundation planting#red fruits#non-flowering#screening#evergreen shrub#evergreen tree#bird friendly#partial shade tolerant#problem for children#problem for horses#heat intolerant#wind damage prone#woodland garden#frost intolerant#problem for cattle#poisonous if ingested#poisonous leaves#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Taxus
    Species:
    baccata
    Family:
    Taxaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The English yew has been used as an ornamental, for timber, bow making, and medicinal purposes. It has played a part in religious traditions in Europe also. The Greeks made funeral wreaths from the plant. The Celts used their wood to make funeral artifacts. An anticancer drug known as Taxol was developed from the yew bark and was approved in the 1990s.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa
    Distribution:
    Native: Albania, Algeria, Austria, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Central European Russia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East European Russia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungry, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, North Caucasus, North European Russia, Northwest European Russia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sicily, South European Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trans Caucasus, Turkey, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. Introduced--Madeira and US--NY
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds eat the fleshy arils and disperse the seeds.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Poisonous
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Needled Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Conical
    Pyramidal
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    On a male plant, there is a yellowish structure that resembles a cone and is known as a strobilus. It is found on the axils of the leaves. On the female plant, there are no cones. The fruits are fleshy, red, and cup-shaped berry known as arils. A single seed is enclosed by an aril. The seeds are poisonous.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Description:
    Non-flowering
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Needled Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Needles
    Leaf Shape:
    Linear
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are shiny, green, flat, needled, linear, and arranged in two vertical columns on opposite sides of the stem. They are 0.4 to 1.6 inches in length and 0.08 to 0.12 inches wide. The upper surface is dark green, and the lower surface is yellowish-green.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Red/Burgundy
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin, scaly, and reddish-brown.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Slope/Bank
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    High
    Poison Symptoms:
    Symptoms include dry mouth, vomiting, vertigo, abdominal pain, vertigo, difficulty breathing, irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, and unconsciousness. Cardiac and respiratory failure and death can occur. If any of the bark, leaves, or seeds of the English Yew are ingested, urgent medical treatment is needed. The plant is highly poisonous and can be fatal to humans, domestic animals, and livestock.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    taxines
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Bark
    Leaves
    Seeds
    Stems