Yew – Taxus Baccata

Tree of the Week

22nd May 2019 | Danny

Common Name: Yew

Scientific Name: Taxus baccata

The Yew tree is a magnificent species and is one of the oldest living trees in the UK, a fact that also reaches to Northern Europe. Due to its lifespan, it is shrouded in mythology and history and a very versatile species that is used for hedges, topiary as well as understory planting due to its shade bearing characteristics that allow it to establish in low light levels.


Leaves: The evergreen leaves are needle-like and set evenly on each side of the shoots/twig, pointing forwards narrowing down to a sharp point often 2-4cm long and 3mm wide. They are very dark green on top and the underside is a lighter green with tinges of grey to yellow below. New growth shoots remain green for three years.

Buds: Small ovoid shaped buds that are green.

Bark: Is reddish-brown with purple flecks throughout with a thin cambium layer. The growth impression can look twisted with deep fissures in areas and has flaky layers peeling away to leave a deeper red colour below.

Form: An evergreen tree all year round with a wide spreading crown that can reach a height up to 20m. Older specimens can reach a girth up to 10m although often will have hollow stems by this point due to the years it takes for the tree to reach this size.


Dioecious. The male flowers are found on the underside of shoots from the previous year’s growth and are globular in shape with a yellow to white colour producing clouds of pollen in February. Female flowers are small, green and rather insignificant until the aril (the fleshy outer part covering the seed) swells and by mid-September has turned bright red and the tip of the seed is exposed.

Growth habit

Yew trees are considered to be slow growing trees which can be a misconception as young trees can add 20 to 30cm in height and a girth of 1 to 1.5cm of growth per year. As they get older, they slow down their growth rapidly and girth declines to 0.5cm a year. In very old trees growth in girth will be limited to 1mm or less per year.


Common to Europe, Atlas Mountains and Asia Minor to Persia.

Interesting facts

Yew trees can live up to 2000 years old, and some debate that the oldest known are even up to 3000 years. In the UK it is thought that there are 10 specimens that predate the 10th century. The oldest known worked wooden item is a spearhead found in Clacton-on-Sea and is said to be over 400,000 years old.

Ecological importance

Birds are the best users of Yews as a source of habitat for nesting through to a food source, where the nontoxic fleshy aril is a sweet syrupy consistency. The seed inside the aril is toxic although some bird species like greenfinches can remove the outer casing to get to the internal part that they can eat. Chemicals extracted from the poison within the Yew tree are currently used in treatments for cancer.

Properties of Yew and uses

The slow growth produces close annual rings and makes for a dense heavy wood. The interesting white sap wood and deep pink heartwood makes for an interesting colour.  Widely used in wood turning and wood work where it is often used as a veneer due to the fact it is often hard to get suitable pieces for planking.

Associated Pests & Disorders

There are not many disorders known for Yew, probably due to their toxic properties. Known pathogens are Phytophthora species and Ganoderma valesciacum. Yew scale (Parthenolecanium pomeranicum) is a scale insect which can cause minor defoliation.

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