T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Taxus baccata (Yew)

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Taxaceae
Genus: Taxus
Species: T. baccata
Binomial name: Taxus baccata
Common names: Yew , English Yew, European Yew


This plant is poisonous
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Yew, which is an evergreen tree, possesses needle like leaves (dark green above, light green below) set in two ranks along its twigs from the start, which are waxy to the touch. The leaves are highly poisonous.
Trunks are often fluted, with the bark reddish brown and flaking. 
Like Holly, male and female Yew flowers occur on separate trees; male flowers are small and yellow. The red berries develop on female trees. These berries stand out in midwinter and are favoured by birds which eat the flesh but discard the poisonous seeds. 
The Yew tree is relatively slow growing, and can be very long-lived, with the maximum recorded trunk diameter of 4 metres probably only being reached in about 2,000 years. The potential age of yews is impossible to determine accurately and is subject to much dispute. There is rarely any wood as old as the entire tree, while the boughs themselves often hollow with age, making ring counts impossible. There are confirmed claims as high as 5,000-9,500 years but other evidence based on growth rates and archaeological work of surrounding structures suggests the oldest trees (such as the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland) are more likely to be in the range of 2,000 years. Even with this lower estimate, Taxus baccata is one of the longest living plants in Europe.
Underneath yews nothing grows due to the combination of the carpet of spines dropped by the tree and the darkness under the thick canopy. Since they are slow growing this makes them an excellent evergreen hedge which takes clipping well, although this prevents it fruiting. They must not to be planted near livestock.

The red berries of the female tree