Yew grows best in zones 5-7. The plant should be spaced 15-20 feet apart. It is suited to sandy, loamy, or clay soils. It should be grown in full sunlight, partial sunlight, or partial shade. The pH level of the soil can range from acidic to alkaline. The height of this plant can reach 49 feet and the width can reach 32 feet. Yew is in bloom from March to April. The seeds ripen from September to November. Propagation by seed is hard, so you will have to use cuttings. The bark of the tree should be protected because it will die if too much of the bark is removed. During dry summer months, yew should be regularly watered. It responds well to trimming and pruning. For the first year, yew should be given a nutrient rich liquid feed every three weeks (3). During the last week of June and first week of July, a chemical treatment should be applied to the roots to kill any pests (3). Yew is an important part of many habitats. The red fruit it produces is eaten by many birds like blackbirds, mistle thrush, fieldfare, etc. It is also useful for birds because it provides shelter and nesting (4).
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Taxane is derived from the tree, it is used in products like taxol which is a cancer medication (1). All parts of the tree are highly poisonous if ingested except for the red arils the tree produces. The arils are the red, fleshy fruit that grows on the tree. It is sweet and often eaten by birds, but the black seeds the arils hold are poisonous (2).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Wood from the Taxus Baccata was popularly used during the Middle Ages to make longbows for war. Popular tree in Celtic mythology for its life and death characteristics (2). Yew trees are commonly found in churchyards in England. The Japanese would use Yew leaves to treat diabetes. It was also used by Native Americans to treat fever, rheumatism, or athritis (5). Another common name for yew is the "tree of death" because it is highly toxic. The name taxus comes from the Greek 'toxin.' Yew has always been popular in England, and the European yew tree is now nearly extinct because of the extensive use of weapons making from the Hundred Year's War. Shakespeare used this toxic nature of yew in his writings of Macbeth and Hamlet. (6) According to legend, Robin Hood had strong ties with the Yew tree. He used a bow made from yew to win the hand of Maid Marion and married her under a yew tree. Robin hood was also said to be buried under a yew (7).
From the Community Voice
"Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravined salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digged i' th' dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat and slips of yew
Slivered in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-delivered by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron."
- Third witch in Macbeth, William Shakespeare (prelude to the famous line, "something wicked this way comes")
1. “Taxus Baccatus - L.” Plants for a Future. http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Taxus+baccata
2. Faljon, Aljos. “Taxus Baccata (common yew).” Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Taxus-baccata.htm
3. “Care Guide for English Yew (Taxus Baccata).” Crown Topiary: English Sculpture. http://www.crowntopiary.co.uk/care-guides/english-yew
4. “Yew.” Royal Forestry Society. http://www.rfs.org.uk/learning/Yew
5. Cashman, Kevin & Craig, Mary Beth. “English yew.” Bellarmine University. November 2004. http://www.bellarmine.edu/faculty/drobinson/EnglishYew.asp
6. “Discovery.” Ch.inperial.ac.uk. http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/local/projects/a_abowath/Discovery.html
7. Earle, Christopher J. “Taxus baccata.” The Gymnosperm Database. December 17, 2013. http://www.conifers.org/ta/Taxus_baccata.php