Taxus baccata
Taxus baccata is a conifer
The conifers, division Pinophyta, also known as division Coniferophyta or Coniferae, are one of 13 or 14 division level taxa within the Kingdom Plantae. Pinophytes are gymnosperms. They are cone-bearing seed plants with vascular tissue; all extant conifers are woody plants, the great majority being...

 native to western, central and southern Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, northwest Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, northern Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 and southwest Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

. It is the tree originally known as yew, though with other related trees becoming known, it may be now known as the English yew, or European yew.


It is a small- to medium-sized evergreen tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

, growing 10–20 m (32.8–65.6 ) (exceptionally up to 28 m (91.9 ft)) tall, with a trunk up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) (exceptionally 4 m (13.1 ft)) diameter. The bark
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

 is thin, scaly brown, coming off in small flakes aligned with the stem. The leaves
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....

 are lanceolate, flat, dark green, 1–4 cm (0.393700787401575–1.6 ) long and 2–3 mm (0.078740157480315–0.118110236220472 ) broad, arranged spirally on the stem, but with the leaf bases twisted to align the leaves in two flat rows either side of the stem, except on erect leading shoots where the spiral arrangement is more obvious. The leaves are highly poisonous.

The seed cones
Conifer cone
A cone is an organ on plants in the division Pinophyta that contains the reproductive structures. The familiar woody cone is the female cone, which produces seeds. The male cones, which produce pollen, are usually herbaceous and much less conspicuous even at full maturity...

 are highly modified, each cone containing a single seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

 4–7 mm (0.15748031496063–0.275590551181102 ) long partly surrounded by a modified scale which develops into a soft, bright red berry
The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. Grapes are an example. The berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp. They may have one or more carpels with a thin covering and fleshy interiors....

-like structure called an aril
An aril is any specialized outgrowth from the funiculus that covers or is attached to the seed. It is sometimes applied to any appendage or thickening of the seed coat in flowering plants, such as the edible parts of the mangosteen and pomegranate fruit, the mace of the nutmeg seed, or the...

, 8–15 mm (0.31496062992126–0.590551181102362 ) long and wide and open at the end. The arils are mature 6–9 months after pollination, and with the seed contained are eaten by thrushes
Thrush (bird)
The thrushes, family Turdidae, are a group of passerine birds that occur worldwide.-Characteristics:Thrushes are plump, soft-plumaged, small to medium-sized birds, inhabiting wooded areas, and often feed on the ground or eat small fruit. The smallest thrush may be the Forest Rock-thrush, at and...

, waxwing
The waxwings form the genus Bombycilla of passerine birds. According to most authorities, this is the only genus placed in the family Bombycillidae.-Description:Waxwings are characterised by soft silky plumage...

s and other bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s, which disperse the hard seeds undamaged in their droppings; maturation of the arils is spread over 2–3 months, increasing the chances of successful seed dispersal. The seeds themselves are extremely poisonous and bitter, but are opened and eaten by some bird species including Hawfinch
The Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes, is a passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae. Its closest living relatives are the Evening Grosbeak from North America and the Hooded Grosbeak from Central America especially Mexico.This bird breeds across Europe and temperate Asia...

es and Great Tit
Great Tit
The Great Tit is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is a widespread and common species throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa in any sort of woodland. It is generally resident, and most Great Tits do not migrate except in extremely...

s. The aril is not poisonous, and is gelatinous and very sweet tasting. The male cones are globose, 3–6 mm (0.118110236220472–0.236220472440945 ) diameter, and shed their pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 in early spring. It is mostly dioecious
Plant sexuality
Plant sexuality covers the wide variety of sexual reproduction systems found across the plant kingdom. This article describes morphological aspects of sexual reproduction of plants....

, but occasional individuals can be variably monoecious
Plant sexuality
Plant sexuality covers the wide variety of sexual reproduction systems found across the plant kingdom. This article describes morphological aspects of sexual reproduction of plants....

, or change sex with time.


It 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
Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year...

 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
Fortingall Yew
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient yew in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, Scotland. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years; recent research into yew tree ages suggests that it is likely to be nearer the lower limit of 2,000 years...

 in Perthshire
Perthshire, officially the County of Perth , is a registration county in central Scotland. It extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

) are more likely to be in the range of 2,000 years. Even with this lower estimate, Taxus baccata is the longest-living plant in Europe. One characteristic contributing to its longevity is that it is able to split under the weight of advanced growth without succumbing to disease in the fracture, as do most other trees.

Significant trees

It is considered by several authors that the oldest yew tree in Spain is located in Bermiego
Bermiego is one of thirteen parishes in Quirós, a municipality within the province and autonomous community of the Principality of Asturias, in northern Spain.The population is 80 .-Villages:* Bermiego* Carrexa...

, Asturias
The Principality of Asturias is an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain, coextensive with the former Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages...

. It is known as «Teixu l'Iglesia» in the Asturian language
Asturian language
Asturian is a Romance language of the West Iberian group, Astur-Leonese Subgroup, spoken in the Spanish Region of Asturias by the Asturian people...

. It is 15 metres tall with a trunk perimeter of 7 metres and a crown diameter of 10 metres. It was planted around 1160. It was declared Natural Monument on April 27, 1995 by the Asturian Government and is protected by the Plan of Natural Resources.
In Great Britain and in Normandy, there are many yews dating back around the year 1000 and some of them around 500. The Fortingall Yew
Fortingall Yew
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient yew in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, Scotland. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years; recent research into yew tree ages suggests that it is likely to be nearer the lower limit of 2,000 years...

 is commonly believed to be the oldest one, with an estimated age between 2000 and 4000 years old, growing in a Scottish church yard. Other well-known yews include the Llangernyw Yew
Llangernyw Yew
The Llangernyw Yew is an ancient yew in the churchyard of the village of Llangernyw in Conwy County Borough, North Wales. The tree is fragmented and its core part has been lost, leaving several enormous offshoots. The girth of the tree at the ground level is 10.75 m.-History:This male yew tree...

, Caesarsboom
Caesarsboom is a very old tree whose precise age is unknown but is believed to be over 2000 years in age. The ancient tree grows in Lo, a town in Lo-Reninge, a municipality of the West Flanders region of Belgium. Its species is Taxus baccata, common name European Yew...

, and the Florencecourt Yew
Florencecourt Yew
The Florencecourt Yew is a specimen of yew growing in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. This single tree is the source of most ornamental yews referred to as "Irish yew"....



Most parts of the tree are toxic, except the bright red aril surrounding the seed, enabling ingestion and dispersal by birds. The major toxin is the alkaloid taxane
The taxanes are diterpenes produced by the plants of the genus Taxus . As their name suggests, they were first derived from natural sources, but some have been synthesized artificially. Taxanes include paclitaxel and docetaxel . Paclitaxel was originally derived from the Pacific yew tree.Taxanes...

. The foliage remains toxic even when wilted or dried. Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s have the lowest tolerance, with a lethal dose of 200–400 mg/kg body weight, but cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

, pig
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig, its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives...

s, and other livestock are only slightly less vulnerable. Symptoms include staggering gait, muscle tremors, convulsions, collapse, difficulty breathing, coldness and eventually heart failure. However, death occurs so rapidly that many times the symptoms are missed.
Fatal poisoning in humans is very rare, only occurring after eating a lot of yew foliage. The lethal dose is reported to be between 50 and 100 grams. The wood is also poisonous. Some bow makers are reputed to have died from the frequent handling of the wood in their craft.

Taxonomy and naming

The word yew is from Proto-Germanic *īwa-, possibly originally a loanword from Gaulish
Gaulish language
The Gaulish language is an extinct Celtic language that was spoken by the Gauls, a people who inhabited the region known as Gaul from the Iron Age through the Roman period...

 ivos, compare Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

Iodhadh is the Irish name of the twenty-fifth letter of the Ogham alphabet, . In Old Irish, the letter name was idad. Its phonetic value is [i]....

, Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

 ywen, French if (see Eihwaz
Eiwaz or Eihaz was a Proto-Germanic word for "yew", and the reconstructed name of the rune ....

 for a discussion). Baccata is Latin for bearing red berries. The word yew as it was originally used seems to refer to the colour brown
Brown is a color term, denoting a range of composite colors produced by a mixture of orange, red, rose, or yellow with black or gray. The term is from Old English brún, in origin for any dusky or dark shade of color....

. The yew (μίλοσ) was known to Theophrastus
Theophrastus , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age, and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death he attached himself to Aristotle. Aristotle bequeathed to Theophrastus his writings, and...

, who noted its preference for mountain coolness and shade, it evergreen character and its slow growth.

On the other side, most romance languages kept the Latin word taxus : Italian tasso (Corsican tassu), Occitan teis (Catalan teix, Gasconic tech), Spanish tejo, Portuguese teixo (Galician teixu) and Romanian tisā, same root as toxic. In Russian, the same root (presumably borrowed from Romanian) is preserved: tiss (тис).

The common yew was one of the many species first described by Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus , also known after his ennoblement as , was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology...

. Along with around 30 other species, it is classified in the family Taxaceae
The family Taxaceae, commonly called the yew family, includes three genera and about 7 to 12 species of coniferous plants, or in other interpretations , six genera and about 30 species....

, which is now firmly classified as a conifer in the order Pinales
The Order Pinales in the Division Pinophyta, Class Pinopsida comprises all the extant conifers. This order was formerly known as the Coniferales....


Uses and traditions

One of the world's oldest surviving wooden artifacts is a yew spear
A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with bamboo spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as flint, obsidian, iron, steel or...

 head, found in 1911 at Clacton-on-sea
Clacton-on-Sea is the largest town on the Tendring peninsula, in Essex, England and was founded in 1871. It is a seaside resort that attracted many tourists in the summer months between the 1950s and 1970s, but which like many other British sea-side resorts went into decline as a holiday...

,in Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

, UK. It is estimated to be 450,000 years old.

In the ancient Celtic
Celtic mythology
Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure...

 world, the yew tree (*eburos) had extraordinary importance; a passage by Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 narrates that Catuvolcus, chief of the Eburones
The Eburones , were a Belgic people who lived in the northeast of Gaul, near the river Meuse and the modern provinces of Belgian and Dutch Limburg, in the period immediately before it was conquered by Rome. They played a major role in Julius Caesar's account of his "Gallic Wars", as the most...

 poisoned himself with yew rather than submit to Rome (Gallic Wars 6: 31). Similarly, Florus
Florus, Roman historian, lived in the time of Trajan and Hadrian.He compiled, chiefly from Livy, a brief sketch of the history of Rome from the foundation of the city to the closing of the temple of Janus by Augustus . The work, which is called Epitome de T...

 notes that when the Cantabri
The Cantabri were a pre-Roman Celtic people which lived in the northern Atlantic coastal region of ancient Hispania, from the 4th to late 1st centuries BC.-Origins:...

ans were under siege by the legate Gaius Furnius in 22 BC, most of them took their lives either by the sword or by fire or by a poison extracted ex arboribus taxeis, that is, from the yew tree (2: 33, 50-51). In a similar way, Orosius notes that when the Astures
Asturian people
The Asturians are one of the nationalisms of Spain, issuing from the historical country of the Principality of Asturias. They have Celtiberian heritage, related to its historical and cultural links with neighbouring Galicia, as well as Visigothic cultural influences most notably found in the...

 were besieged at Mons Medullius, they preferred to die by their own swords or by the yew tree poison rather than surrender (6, 21, 1.)


In Asturian
Asturian people
The Asturians are one of the nationalisms of Spain, issuing from the historical country of the Principality of Asturias. They have Celtiberian heritage, related to its historical and cultural links with neighbouring Galicia, as well as Visigothic cultural influences most notably found in the...

 tradition and culture the yew tree has had a real link with the land, the people, the ancestors and the ancient religion. It was tradition on All Saints Day to bring a branch of a yew tree to the tombs of those who died recently so they will find the guide in their return to the Land of Shadows. The yew tree can be found near chapels, churches and cemeteries since ancient times as a symbol of the transcendence of death, and is usually found in the main squares of the villages where people celebrated the open councils that served as a way of general assembly to rule the village affairs.

The yew is often found in church yards from England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. In France, the oldest yew trees are located in Norman
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

 church yards and a chapel was very often laid out in the hollow trunk. Some examples can be found in La Haye-de-Routot
La Haye-de-Routot
La Haye-de-Routot is a commune in the Eure department in northern France. It is located near Seine-Maritime near the forest of Brotonne.-Population:-References:*...

 or La Lande-Patry
La Lande-Patry
La Lande-Patry is a commune in the Orne department in north-western France....

. It is said, that up to 40 people could stand inside one of the La-Haye-de-Routot yew trees. Indeed, some of these trees are exceptionally large (over 3 m diameter) and may be over 2,000 years old. Sometimes monks planted yews in the middle of their cloister, like in Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey is one of the major ecclesiastical sites found in the Killarney National Park, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland. It was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary for the Observantine Franciscans by Donal McCarthy Mor....

 (Ireland) or abbaye de Jumièges (France). Some ancient yew trees are located at St Mary the Virgin Church, Overton-on-Dee
Overton-on-Dee is a small rural town and a local government community, the lowest tier of local government, part of Wrexham County Borough in Wales....

 in Wales.
It has been suggested that the enormous sacred evergreen
Sacred tree at Uppsala
The sacred tree at Uppsala was a sacred tree located at the Temple at Uppsala, Sweden, in the second half of the 11th century. It is not known what species it was, but a scholar has suggested that it was a yew tree....

 at the Temple at Uppsala
Temple at Uppsala
The Temple at Uppsala was a religious center in Norse paganism once located at what is now Gamla Uppsala , Sweden attested in Adam of Bremen's 11th century work Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum and in Heimskringla, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century...

 was an ancient yew tree. The Christian church commonly found it expedient to take over these existing sacred sites for churches. It is sometimes suggested that these were planted as a symbol of long life or trees of death. An explanation that the yews were planted to discourage farmers and drovers from letting their animals wander into the burial grounds, with the poisonous foliage being the disincentive, may be intentionally prosaic. A more likely reason is that fronds and branches of yew were often used as a substitute for palms on Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. ....



In 1021, Avicenna
Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā , commonly known as Ibn Sīnā or by his Latinized name Avicenna, was a Persian polymath, who wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived...

 introduced the medicinal use of T. baccata for phytotherapy
Phytotherapy is the study of the use of extracts from natural origin as medicines or health-promoting agents.Traditional phytotherapy is often used as synonym for herbalism and regarded as "alternative medicine" by much of Western medicine, although effects of many substances found in plants have...

 in The Canon of Medicine
The Canon of Medicine
The Canon of Medicine is an encyclopedia of Galenic medicine in five books compiled by Ibn Sīnā and completed in 1025. It presents a clear and organized summary of all the medical knowledge of the time...

. He named this herbal drug
A drug, broadly speaking, is any substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function. There is no single, precise definition, as there are different meanings in drug control law, government regulations, medicine, and colloquial usage.In pharmacology, a...

 as "Zarnab" and used it as a cardiac
The heart is a myogenic muscular organ found in all animals with a circulatory system , that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions...

 remedy. This was the first known use of a calcium channel blocker
Calcium channel blocker
A calcium channel blocker is a chemical that disrupts the movement of calcium through calcium channels.CCB drugs devised to target neurons are used as antiepileptics. However, the most widespread clinical usage of calcium channel blockers is to decrease blood pressure in patients with...

 drug, which were not in wide use in the Western world
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 until the 1960s.

The precursors of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with an antineoplastic drug or with a combination of such drugs into a standardized treatment regimen....

 drug Paclitaxel
Paclitaxel is a mitotic inhibitor used in cancer chemotherapy. It was discovered in a U.S. National Cancer Institute program at the Research Triangle Institute in 1967 when Monroe E. Wall and Mansukh C. Wani isolated it from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia and named it taxol...

 can be derived from the leaves of European Yew, which is a more renewable source than the bark of the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia
Taxus brevifolia
Taxus brevifolia is a conifer native to the Pacific Northwest of North America. It ranges from southernmost Alaska south to central California, mostly in the Pacific Coast Ranges, but with an isolated disjunct population in southeast British Columbia, most notably occurring on Zuckerberg Island...

). This ended a point of conflict in the early 1990s; many environmentalists, including Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

, had opposed the harvesting of paclitaxel for cancer treatments. Docetaxel (another taxane
The taxanes are diterpenes produced by the plants of the genus Taxus . As their name suggests, they were first derived from natural sources, but some have been synthesized artificially. Taxanes include paclitaxel and docetaxel . Paclitaxel was originally derived from the Pacific yew tree.Taxanes...

) can then be obtained by semi-synthetic conversion from the precursors.

In the Central Himalayas, the plant is used as a treatment for breast and ovarian cancer.


Yew is also associated with Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 and England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 because of the longbow
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall ; this will allow its user a fairly long draw, at least to the jaw....

, an early weapon of war developed in northern Europe, and as the English longbow
English longbow
The English longbow, also called the Welsh longbow, is a powerful type of medieval longbow about 6 ft long used by the English and Welsh for hunting and as a weapon in medieval warfare...

 the basis for a medieval tactical system. Yew is the wood of choice for longbow making; the bows are constructed so that the heartwood of yew is on the inside of the bow while the sapwood is on the outside. This takes advantage of the natural properties of yew wood since the heartwood resists compression while the sapwood resists stretching. This increased the strength and efficiency of the bow. Much yew is knotty and twisted, so unsuitable for bowmaking; most trunks do not give good staves and even in a good trunk much wood has to be discarded.

The trade of yew wood to England for longbows was such that it depleted the stocks of good-quality, mature yew over a vast area. The first documented import of yew bowstaves to England was in 1294. In 1350 there was a serious shortage, and Henry IV of England
Henry IV of England
Henry IV was King of England and Lord of Ireland . He was the ninth King of England of the House of Plantagenet and also asserted his grandfather's claim to the title King of France. He was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, hence his other name, Henry Bolingbroke...

 ordered his royal bowyer to enter private land and cut yew and other woods. In 1470 compulsory archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

 practice was renewed, and hazel
The hazels are a genus of deciduous trees and large shrubs native to the temperate northern hemisphere. The genus is usually placed in the birch family Betulaceae, though some botanists split the hazels into a separate family Corylaceae.They have simple, rounded leaves with double-serrate margins...

, ash, and laburnum
Laburnum is a genus of two species of small trees in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae, Laburnum anagyroides and L. alpinum . They are native to the mountains of southern Europe from France to the Balkan Peninsula...

 were specifically allowed for practice bows. Supplies still proved insufficient, until by the Statute of Westminster in 1472, every ship coming to an English port had to bring four bowstaves for every tun
Tun (unit)
The tun is an old English unit of wine cask volume, holding about 954 litres, almost a cubic metre. Etymologically it is identical to the ton, a unit of mass or weight and constituted approximately 2,048 pints or pounds. Originally, it was a genuine unit of volume and measured 256 gallons ,...

. Richard III of England
Richard III of England
Richard III was King of England for two years, from 1483 until his death in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty...

 increased this to ten for every tun. This stimulated a vast network of extraction and supply, which formed part of royal monopolies in southern Germany and Austria. In 1483, the price of bowstaves rose from two to eight pounds
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

 per hundred, and in 1510 the Venetians
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 would only sell a hundred for sixteen pounds. In 1507 the Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 asked the Duke of Bavaria to stop cutting yew, but the trade was profitable, and in 1532 the royal monopoly was granted for the usual quantity "if there are that many." In 1562, the Bavarian government sent a long plea to the Holy Roman Emperor asking him to stop the cutting of yew, and outlining the damage done to the forests by its selective extraction, which broke the canopy and allowed wind to destroy neighbouring trees. In 1568, despite a request from Saxony, no royal monopoly was granted because there was no yew to cut, and the next year Bavaria and Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 similarly failed to produce enough yew to justify a royal monopoly. Forestry records in this area in the 17th century do not mention yew, and it seems that no mature trees were to be had. The English tried to obtain supplies from the Baltic, but at this period bows were being replaced by guns
Gunpowder warfare
Early modern warfare is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and handguns such as the arquebus and later the musket, and for this reason the era is also summarized as the age of gunpowder...

 in any case.

Horticultural cultivation

Today European Yew is widely used in landscaping and ornamental horticulture
Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the disciplines of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic...

. Due to its dense, dark green, mature foliage, and its tolerance of even very severe pruning, it is used especially for formal hedge
Hedge may refer to:* Hedge or hedgerow, line of closely spaced shrubs planted to act as a barrier* Hedge , investment made to limit loss* Hedge , intentionally non-committal or ambiguous sentence fragments-See also:...

s and topiary
Topiary is the horticultural practice of training live perennial plants, by clipping the foliage and twigs of trees, shrubs and subshrubs to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes, perhaps geometric or fanciful; and the term also refers to plants which have been shaped in this way. It can be...

. Its relatively slow growth rate means that in such situations it needs to be clipped only once per year (in late summer).

Well over 200 cultivar
A cultivar'Cultivar has two meanings as explained under Formal definition. When used in reference to a taxon, the word does not apply to an individual plant but to all those plants sharing the unique characteristics that define the cultivar. is a plant or group of plants selected for desirable...

s of T. baccata have been named. The most popular of these are the Irish Yew
Florencecourt Yew
The Florencecourt Yew is a specimen of yew growing in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. This single tree is the source of most ornamental yews referred to as "Irish yew"....

 (T. baccata 'Fastigiata'), a fastigiate cultivar of the European Yew selected from two trees found growing in Ireland, and the several cultivars with yellow leaves, collectively known as "Golden Yew".

European Yew will tolerate growing in a wide range of soils and situations, including shallow chalk soils and shade, although in deep shade its foliage may be less dense. However it cannot tolerate waterlogging, and in poorly-draining situations is liable to succumb to the root-rotting pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi
Phytophthora cinnamomi
Phytophthora cinnamomi is a soil-borne water mould that produces an infection which causes a condition in plants called root rot or dieback. The plant pathogen is one of the world's most invasive species and is present in over 70 countries from around the world.- Life cycle and effects on plants :P...


In Europe, Taxus baccata grows naturally north to Molde
is a city and municipality in Møre og Romsdal county, Norway. It is part of the Romsdal region. The municipality is located on the Romsdal Peninsula, surrounding the Fannefjord and Moldefjord...

 in southern Norway, but it is used in gardens further north. It is also popular as a Bonsai in many parts of Europe and makes a handsome small to large sized bonsai.


Clippings from ancient specimens in the UK, including the Fortingall Yew
Fortingall Yew
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient yew in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, Scotland. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years; recent research into yew tree ages suggests that it is likely to be nearer the lower limit of 2,000 years...

, are being taken to the Royal Botanic Gardens
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a scientific centre for the study of plants, their diversity and conservation, as well as a popular tourist attraction. Originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, today it occupies four sites across Scotland — Edinburgh,...

 in Edinburgh to form a mile-long hedge. The purpose of this "Yew Conservation Hedge Project" is to maintain the DNA of Taxus baccata. The species is threatened by felling, partly due to rising demand from pharmaceutical companies, and disease.

Literary references

  • Thomas Gray
    Thomas Gray
    Thomas Gray was a poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.-Early life and education:...

    's poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
    Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
    Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a poem by Thomas Gray, completed in 1750 and first published in 1751. The poem’s origins are unknown, but it was partly inspired by Gray’s thoughts following the death of the poet Richard West in 1742. Originally titled Stanza's Wrote in a Country...

    refers to the 'yew-tree's shade' in line 13.
  • The Old English poem Beowulf
    Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

    describes a shield made of wood from a yew tree.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
    Arthur Conan Doyle
    Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle DL was a Scottish physician and writer, most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, generally considered a milestone in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger...

     refers to the yew tree in the Song of the Bow from his novel The White Company
    The White Company
    The White Company is a historical adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle set during the Hundred Years' War. The story is set in England, France, and Spain, in the years 1366 and 1367, against the background of the campaign of Edward, the Black Prince to restore Peter of Castile to the throne of the...

    . In Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles
    The Hound of the Baskervilles
    The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an...

    , Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the Yew Alley, a narrow walkway bounded on one side by Baskerville Hall and on the other by a thick hedge of yew trees.
  • The yew tree is an iconic reference in the poetry of Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer...

    , particularly in several poems from her collection of poetry Ariel. (See "The Moon and the Yew Tree", "Little Fugue", and "Daddy
    Daddy (poem)
    "Daddy" is a poem written by American poet Sylvia Plath. It was written on October 12, 1962, shortly before her death, and published posthumously in Ariel in 1965. The poem's implications and thematic concerns have been discussed academically with differing conclusions...

  • In Shakesphere's Titus Andronicus
    Titus Andronicus
    Titus Andronicus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, and possibly George Peele, believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy, and is often seen as his attempt to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were...

    , Act 2 Scene 3, Tamora the Goth queen exclaims: "No sooner had they told this hellish tale / But straight they told me they would bind me here / Unto the body of a dismal yew"
  • In the Irish myth "The Love of Chu Chulainn and Fand", the warrior and the goddess meet beneath a yew tree's head at every quarter moon.
  • In John Webster's
    John Webster
    John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...

     The White Devil
    The White Devil
    The White Devil is a revenge tragedy from 1612 by English playwright John Webster . A notorious failure when it premiered, Webster complained the play was acted in the dead of winter before an unreceptive audience. The play's complexity, sophistication and satire made it a poor fit with the...

    a yew tree (spelt 'Eu') features heavily in an important recount of a dream sequence in Act 1 Scene 2, an ambiguous passage that can be interpreted as perhaps encouraging a double murder: "...both were strucke dead by that sacred Eu,/ in that base shallow grave that was their due."
  • John Keats
    John Keats
    John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

     refers to the yew in his "Ode on Melancholy", writing, "Make not your rosary of yew-berries, / Nor let the beetle, nor the death moth be / Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl / A partner in your sorrow's mysteries..." (lines 5-8).
  • In Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam: A.H.H." the yew above Arthur Hallam's grave is addressed: "Old yew, which graspest at the stones/ That name the underlying dead,/ Thy fibres net the dreamless head,/ Thy roots are wrapped about the bones" (II, ln. 1-4).
  • A yew tree is featured prominently in William Wordsworth
    William Wordsworth
    William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

    's poems "Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew Tree" and "Yew-Trees".
  • In Alexandre Dumas
    Alexandre Dumas, père
    Alexandre Dumas, , born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world...

    's novel, The Count of Monte Cristo
    The Count of Monte Cristo
    The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas. It is often considered to be, along with The Three Musketeers, Dumas's most popular work. He completed the work in 1844...

    , Edmond Dantès
    Edmond Dantès
    Edmond Dantès is the protagonist and title character of Alexandre Dumas, père's novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.Dumas may have gotten the idea for the character of Edmond from a story which he found in a book compiled by Jacques Peuchet, archivist to the French police. Peuchet related the tale of...

     is imprisoned in the Château d'If
    Château d'If
    The Château d'If is a fortress located on the island of If, the smallest island in the Frioul Archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea about a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille in southeastern France...

    , which literally translates to "Castle of the Yew" (If is a small island near Marseilles, and the name may or may not derive from the word which means yew).
  • George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession uses a yew tree in the yard of Reverend Samuel Gardner.
  • In Section V of Little Gidding from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (the last section of the poem), Eliot claims: "The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree/ Are of equal duration". In his poem, "Ash-Wednesday", he mentions the yew five times: "The silent sister veiled in white and blue/ Between the yews, behind the garden god, / Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but/ spoke no word"; "Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew"; "Will the veiled sister between the slender/ Yew trees pray for those who offend her"; "But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away/ Let the other yew be shaken and reply".
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

    's The Silmarillion
    The Silmarillion
    The Silmarillion is a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien's mythopoeic works, edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 1977, with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay, who later became a noted fantasy writer. The Silmarillion, along with J. R. R...

    , Beleg Strongbow uses a bow made of yew. In The Hobbit
    The Hobbit
    The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, better known by its abbreviated title The Hobbit, is a fantasy novel and children's book by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald...

    , the eagle king complains of the men of Wilderland using bows made of yew to shoot at his people. Bard the Bowman uses a yew bow to fatally shoot the dragon Smaug
    Smaug is a fictional character in the novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. He is a dragon, and the main antagonist within the story.-The Hobbit:...

  • The murderer in Agatha Christie
    Agatha Christie
    Dame Agatha Christie DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections , and her successful West End plays.According to...

    's mystery A Pocket Full of Rye
    A Pocket Full of Rye
    A Pocket Full of Rye is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on November 9, 1953, and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at ten shillings and sixpence and the US edition at $2.75...

    uses taxine (taxol), a poison derived from yew, to kill the victim. The victim lives at Yewtree Lodge.
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin
    Ursula K. Le Guin
    Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is an American author. She has written novels, poetry, children's books, essays, and short stories, notably in fantasy and science fiction...

    's Earthsea
    Earthsea is a fictional realm originally created by Ursula K. Le Guin for her short story "The Word of Unbinding", published in 1964. Earthsea became the setting for a further six books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea, first published in 1968, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The...

    series, both the wizard Ged and the Master Summoner carry staves of yew.
  • In J. K. Rowling
    J. K. Rowling
    Joanne "Jo" Rowling, OBE , better known as J. K. Rowling, is the British author of the Harry Potter fantasy series...

    's Harry Potter
    Harry Potter
    Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

    series, Voldemort uses a wand made of yew. Additionally, the Malfoy Manor is surrounded by yew hedges, and the graveyard in which Voldemort makes his return has a yew tree.
  • The yew is the subject of Swedish author Gunnar D. Hansson
    Gunnar D. Hansson
    Gunnar D. Hansson, born in 1945 on the island Smögen in Sweden, is an author, poet, essayist, translator and associate professor of literature at Göteborg University...

    's "lyrical monography" Idegransöarna (The Yew-tree Islands, 1994, untranslated to English). Hansson explores the yew in its uses (medicinal, lyrical, in place-names, etc) and its historical meaning. He speculates about the yew, and weaves a tale of prose poems, essays and lyrics, about the yew; the book takes the reader close to the yew in its relation to Hittites
    The Hittites were a Bronze Age people of Anatolia.They established a kingdom centered at Hattusa in north-central Anatolia c. the 18th century BC. The Hittite empire reached its height c...

    , Vikings, medicine, Robin Hood, Christmas, heathendom, etymology and mythology.
  • The Great Chain of Being
    Great chain of being
    The great chain of being , is a Christian concept detailing a strict, religious hierarchical structure of all matter and life, believed to have been decreed by the Christian God.-Divisions:...

    , which proposes a strict, hierarchical order for the beings (divine entities, animals, and plants) in the universe, designates the yew as the lowest form of tree among plants.
  • In Erin Hunter
    Erin Hunter
    Erin Hunter is a pseudonym used by the authors Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, and Tui Sutherland, along with editor Victoria Holmes. Under this pen name, they have written two series of books. They are best known for the Warriors series, but the authors have also created another similar series called...

    's Warriors novel series, yew berries are said to be poisonous to cats, and are referred to as "deathberries". Several vital plot points are based around yew, like Yellowfang intentionally feeding her son Brokentail yew berries and killing him. In a later book in the series, Darkstripe's disloyalty to his Clan becomes obvious when he feeds Sorrelkit, who had followed him and heard him plotting with Tigerstar, some yew berries in an attempt to kill her, but thanks to immediate medical attention, Sorrelkit survives and reveals what Darkstripe had been doing.
  • In Brian Jacques
    Brian Jacques
    James Brian Jacques was an English author best known for his Redwall series of novels and Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series. He also completed two collections of short stories entitled The Ribbajack & Other Curious Yarns and Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales.-Biography:Brian Jacques was born...

    ' novel Redwall
    Redwall, by Brian Jacques, is a series of fantasy novels. It is the title of the first book of the series, published in 1986, the name of the Abbey featured in the book, and the name of an animated TV series based on three of the novels , which first aired in 1999...

    , Constance the Badger uses a yew sapling to build a crossbow
    A crossbow is a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrels. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.Historically, crossbows played a...

    , with which they hope to kill Cluny the Scourge.

External links

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