English yew, Common yew, or Taxus baccata, is a non-cone bearing conifer. Actually it does bear a single seed cone but it’s obscured by a fleshy red fruit which looks very unconifer-like. Yews, large shrubs or small trees, tend to be more formal, more tolerant of shade, and a darker green than most conifers. They are extremely slow growing and can live to spectacularly great ages. Many in the UK are thought to be at least 2,000 years old and some argue for much older dates - as much as 5,000 years old; amazing. There is also a vast lore about Yews dating back to the sacred groves of prehistoric Europe and Celtic ritual.

English yew is most often seen clipped into dense hedges and screens, or rendered into topiary. But English yew makes an outstanding specimen and, if left to grow, it can reach 40 feet in height with a 30 foot spread and they have been known to reach heights of 50 feet. The feathery, shiny, very dark green leaves, or needles, are 0.5 to 1.5 inches long. The handsome, reddish-brown trunk is fluted and can, with time, become massive. The flowers appear in spring but are not noteworthy, but they are followed by the production of small, showy, red, fleshy fruits which contain one of the most poisonous seeds known, capable of poisoning man and livestock.

Few plants have the dignity of a Yew. For formal hedging and screening it is unsurpassed and makes the perfect background for showier trees and shrubs.

It can take full sun or grow beneath taller trees and it will grow in any fertile, well-drained soil. It does well throughout the cooler parts of North America, the upper half of the United States and Canada, and, of course, it thrives in the UK where it is fully hardy. Yews also do well in cool temperate Australia and New Zealand.

As always, the better cultivars are not likely to be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries.



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