Characteristics of English Yew Tree (Taxus baccata) in the Wild

Taxus baccata
English Yew or European Yew (Taxus baccata) is a species of the evergreen tree in the Taxaceae family, native to Europe, the African seas, northern Iran, and southwest Asia. This tree is poisonous but is widely grown as an ornamental tree.

The English Yew tree has a poison that is quite dangerous, if humans consume the leaves, they will experience death. Until now, no cure works to prevent English Yew poisoning.

The English Yew tree can grow for thousands of years, one tree named Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland is recorded to have an age of 2,000 to 3,000 years. Another with Llangernyw Yew in Clwyd, Wales, who was found at a holy site and after being researched he was about 1,500 years old.

Also, there are many more English Yew trees of fantastic ages, and some of them have been given names such as Ankerwycke Yew, Balderschwang Yew, Caesarsboom, Florence Court Yew (Ireland’s oldest Yew tree), and Borrowdale Fraternal Four. Florence Court Yew is still alive on the Florence Court plantation in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.


Characteristics of English Yew Leaf

Taxus baccata Leaf
Source: Cosenza

The leaves are flat, dark green, arranged in a spiral on the stem, 1-4 cm long and 2-3 mm wide. English Yew leaves are very poisonous.

Although English Yew leaves are poisonous, Wall and Wani in 1967 discovered the properties as an anti-cancer agent from the extract of the bark of this tree. The precursor of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (taxol) was then shown to be easily synthesized from the extract of English Yew leaves.


Characteristics of English Yew Fruit

Taxus baccata Fruit
Source: Popov

The cones are 8-15 mm long, contain one 4-7 mm long seed, partly fleshy, bright red like a berry.


Characteristics of English Yew Tree

Taxus baccata Tree
Source: James Greenwood

The English Yew tree can grow to be a small to medium tree up to 10-20 meters tall (25 meters is very rare), with a trunk diameter of up to 2-2.5 meters. The bark is thin, brown scaly, loose in small pieces parallel to the trunk. This tree can reach hundreds or even thousands of years.

In Europe and countries with similar climates, many English Yew trees are used to decorate gardens and yards. The tree is very tolerant of very severe pruning and can form dense thickets of dark green leaves that look soothing. European bonsai artists often use English Yew trees as bonsai trees.


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