Taxus cuspidata

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Common Yew

Taxus baccata

  • Name also: English Yew, European Yew
  • Family: Yew Family – Taxaceae
  • Growing form and height: Dioecious coniferous shrub or small tree. 1–5 m (3–16 ft.).
  • Flower: Male and female flowers on separate individuals. Axillary male inflorescences globose, yellow. Female flowers erect, green, borne singly in the leaf axils.
  • Leaves: Evergreen, linear, flat, short-stalked, 1–3 cm (0.4–1.2 in.) long needles with a pointed tip. Dark green above, yellowish-green beneath. Spreading in two ranks either side of the shoot.
  • Cone: Berry-like structure consisting of a single seed enclosed in a fleshy aril ripening from green to red. The aril is open at the top, the green seed being visible in the opening.
  • Habitat: Moist coniferous and mixed forests.
  • Flowering time: June.
  • Endangerment: Near threatened, protected on the Åland Islands.

Common yew is a peculiar conifer which lacks cone-like female inflorescences. Structurally it actually resembles maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba). Indeed, the genus Taxus is to be understood as an independent lineage, parallel to but separate from the actual conifers (Pinopsida or Coniferae).

Common yew is a dioecious gymnospermous shrub or small tree which prefers oceanic climate. The plant is very poisonous, apart from the aril enclosing the seed.

Common yew is a typical member of the Central European broadleaf forest vegetation, and it is thought to have been introduced to the Åland Islands by the Vikings. Its hard and tough timber offered the best material for bows, and strings could be made from the fibrous bark. Also various other utensils, e.g. dishes, were – and still are – made from the timber. A chemical compound isolated from the bark of common yew has been noted to have cancer-healing properties.

Japanese Yew & Taxus Media

Taxus cuspidata & Taxus x media

In Finland, the yews used in gardens and parks are usually of the hardier Japanese yew (Rigid branch yew, Spreading yew) or Taxus media (Anglojap yew, Hicks yew) which is a hybrid between common and Japanese yew.

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