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Taxus baccata - L.

Common Name Yew, English yew, Common Yew
Family Taxaceae
USDA hardiness 5-7
Known Hazards All parts of the plant, except the flesh of the fruit, are highly poisonous, having a paralyzing affect on the heart[1, 4, 7, 10, 19, 65]. Poisoning symptoms are dry mouth, vomiting, vertigo, abdominal pain, dyspnoea, arrhythmias, hypotension & unconsciousness.
Habitats Woods and scrub, usually on limestone. It sometimes forms pure stands in sheltered sites on chalk in the south-east and on limestone in the north-west[17].
Range Europe, incl Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to N. Africa, the Caucasus, Iran, Himalayas.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun
Taxus baccata Yew, English yew,  Common Yew

Taxus baccata Yew, English yew,  Common Yew


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Bloom Color: Green, Yellow. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Rounded.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Taxus baccata is an evergreen Tree growing to 15 m (49ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from March to April, and the seeds ripen from September to November. The species is dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required). and is pollinated by Wind. The plant is not self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid and very alkaline soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Cephalotaxus adpressa Beissn. Cephalotaxus brevifolia Beissn.. Verataxus adpressa (Carrière) Carrièr

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Secondary; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade; Ground Cover; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit
Edible Uses: Tea

Fruit - raw[1, 2, 65, 81, 158]. Very sweet and gelatinous, most people find it delicious though some find it sickly[K]. A number of people who like the flavour do not like the texture which is often described as being 'snotty'[K]. All other parts of this plant, including the seed, are highly poisonous. When eating the fruit you should spit out the large seed found in the fruit's centre. Should you swallow the whole seed it will just pass straight through you without harm (UPDATE: this is probably not true: unfortunately, the digestive system of most mammals, including humans, is robust enough to break down the seeds. This will release the toxic taxanes. Birds are able to eat the whole “berry” because they cannot digest the seeds). If it is bitten into, however, you will notice a very bitter flavour and the seed should immediately be spat out or it could cause some problems. The fruit is a fleshy berry about 10mm in diameter and containing a single seed[200]. Some reports suggest using the bark as a tea substitute[158, 183], this would probably be very unwise.

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Anticonvulsant  Antispasmodic  Cancer  Cardiotonic  Diaphoretic  Emmenagogue  Epilepsy  Expectorant  
Homeopathy  Narcotic  Purgative

The yew tree is a highly toxic plant that has occasionally been used medicinally, mainly in the treatment of chest complaints. Modern research has shown that the plants contain the substance 'taxol' in their shoots. Taxol has shown exciting potential as an anti-cancer drug, particularly in the treatment of ovarian cancers[238]. Unfortunately, the concentrations of taxol in this species are too low to be of much value commercially, though it is being used for research purposes[238]. This remedy should be used with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[21]. See also the notes above on toxicity. All parts of the plant, except the fleshy fruit, are antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, narcotic and purgative[7, 21]. The leaves have been used internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, hiccup, indigestion, rheumatism and epilepsy[240, 257]. Externally, the leaves have been used in a steam bath as a treatment for rheumatism[257]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the young shoots and the berries[4]. It is used in the treatment of many diseases including cystitis, eruptions, headaches, heart and kidney problems, rheumatism etc[4]. Ingestion of 50-100g of needles can cause death.

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Fuel  Hedge  Hedge  Incense  Insecticide  Wood

Very tolerant of trimming, this plant makes an excellent hedge[1, 11, 29]. The plants are often used in topiary and even when fairly old, the trees can be cut back into old wood and will resprout[200]. One report says that trees up to 1000 years old respond well to trimming[200]. A decoction of the leaves is used as an insecticide[46, 61]. Some cultivars can be grown as a ground cover when planted about 1 metre or more apart each way[208]. 'Repandens' has been recommended[208]. Wood - heavy, hard, durable, elastic, takes a good polish but requires long seasoning. Highly esteemed by cabinet makers, it is also used for bows, tool handles etc[4, 7, 11, 46, 61, 66, 146]. It makes a good firewood[6]. The wood is burnt as an incense[146].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Carbon Farming  Espalier  Food Forest  Ground cover  Hedge  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Medicinal  Management: Coppice  Regional Crop

Landscape Uses:Espalier, Firewood, Hedge, Screen, Standard, Superior hedge, Specimen. A very easy plant to grow, it is extremely tolerant of cold and heat, sunny and shady positions, wet and dry soils, exposure and any pH[200]. Thrives in almost any soil, acid or alkaline, as long as it is well-drained[1, 11, 200]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Sensitive to soil compaction by roads etc[186, 200]. Very shade tolerant[17, 81]. Tolerates urban pollution[200]. In general they are very tolerant of exposure, though plants are damaged by severe maritime exposure[K]. A very cold hardy plant when dormant, tolerating temperatures down to about -25°c[200]. The fresh young shoots in spring, however, can be damaged by frosts[186, K]. Plants are dioecious, though they sometimes change sex and monoecious trees are sometimes found[81, 186]. Male and female trees must be grown if fruit and seed is required[K]. The fruit is produced mainly on the undersides of one-year old branches[200]. A very long lived tree[1, 7, 11, 185], one report suggests that a tree in Perthshire is 1500 years old, making it the oldest plant in Britain. Another report says that trees can be up to 4000 years old[11]. It is, however, slow growing and usually takes about 20 years to reach a height of 4.5 metres[186]. Young plants occasionally grow 30cm in a year but this soon tails off and virtually no height increase is made after 100 years[185]. A very ornamental tree, there are many named varieties[200]. Very resistant to honey fungus[8, 88, 200], but susceptible to phytopthera root rot[81, 88]. The bark is very soft and branches or even the whole tree can be killed if the bark is removed by constant friction such as by children climbing the tree[186]. Plants produce very little fibrous root and should be planted in their final positions when still small[200]. The fruit is greatly relished by thrushes[186]. Special Features: Not North American native, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Medicinal  Most pharmaceuticals are synthesized from petroleum but 25% of modern medicines are based on plants.
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - can be very slow to germinate, often taking 2 or more years[78, 80]. It is best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn when it should germinate 18 months later. Stored seed may take 2 years or more to germinate. 4 months warm followed by 4 months cold stratification may help reduce the germination time[113]. Harvesting the seed 'green' (when fully developed but before it has dried on the plant) and then sowing it immediately has not been found to reduce the germination time because the inhibiting factors develop too early[80]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle and grow them on in pots in a cold frame. The seedlings are very slow-growing and will probably require at least 2 years of pot cultivation before being large enough to plant out. Any planting out is best done in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe terminal shoots, 5 - 8cm long, July/August in a shaded frame. Should root by late September but leave them in the frame over winter and plant out in late spring[78]. High percentage[11]. Cuttings of ripe terminal shoots, taken in winter after a hard frost, in a shaded frame[113].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
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Cephalotaxus harringtonia drupaceaJapanese Plum YewShrub5.0 6-9 SLMHFSM503
Cephalotaxus harringtonia koreanaKorean Plum YewShrub1.5 6-9 SLMHFSM503
Cephalotaxus harringtonia nanaJapanese Plum YewShrub2.0 6-9 SLMHFSM503
Cephalotaxus lanceolataYunnan Plum YewShrub8.0 7-10 SLMHFSNM402
Cephalotaxus oliveri Shrub3.0 7-10 SLMHFSNM304
Cephalotaxus sinensisChinese Plum YewShrub5.0 6-9 SLMHFSM413
Cephalotaxus wilsoniana Tree10.0 7-10 SLMHFSM40 
Taxus brevifoliaPacific YewTree15.0 5-9 SLMHFSNDM343
Taxus canadensisCanadian YewTree1.5 4-8 SLMHFSNDM341
Taxus cuspidataJapanese YewTree10.0 4-7 SLMHFSNDM342
Taxus x mediaAnglojapanese YewShrub6.0 4-7 SLMHFSNDM344

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment



Botanical References


Links / References

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Readers comment

Rich (webweaver)   Tue Jun 27 2006

I see you, and other readers, recommend eating the fleshy cup surrounding the yew berry. I too eat them from time to time just for fun, but please note what it says in _British Poisonous Plants_, HMSO Bulletin 161, 1968 (1976). "The cup is attractive to children...the juicy part is sweet and not very poisonous..." (p.30, para 2.) Note "not _very_ poisonous". But farther down the page, we find "Children have died from eating the cups." (p.30, para 4.) The book is concerned principally with toxicity to livestock, so I imagine it's a question of small children having rather less body mass than sheep! Perhaps a word of warning would be sensible? Best wishes, and keep up the excellent work. Mike Lyle (Cheltenham).

   Wed Aug 30 2006

I have heard that the fleshy part is edible but can also be used as a laxative so probably best to eat it in moderation

Robert   Fri Oct 13 2006

how old are young plants beforethey bear fruit

Ken Fern   Fri Oct 20 2006

The time it takes for a young plant to commence fruiting is very variable, and also depends upon whether the young plant was started from seed or was produced vegetatively (cuttings). We have had a seedling commence fruiting when only 8 years old, but this, I feel, is exceptional. Most of the seedlings I have grown have taken 10 - 15 years or even longer before flowering. Named cultivars, which are produced vegetatively, should take less time. Please also remember that plants are either male or female - if you have a male plant it will never bear fruit.

Oscvar   Sun Sep 24 2006

I am befuddled, probably because of my ignorance on the subject; about Taxus Baccata being such a widespread ornamental if it is so poisonous, particularly to children. The only empirical explanation, if not very reassuring, is that even children would not go about snacking on a Taxus. Where I live Taxus Baccata is widely used as a hedge and I have been lovingly tending to one at home for the past 3 years, it’s coming along gorgeous, the hedge is about 2 meters tall already. It is a little sparse; I’m yet to really make it thicken up. Today I learned about its toxicity and I am terrified because I have 2 and 5 year old children at home!?… Please, can anybody shed some light, offer any guidance? I have considered chopping it all off…

Ricki Wenn   Sun Jun 10 2007

I have pet rabbits in my garden and would love some of this species, but are they toxic to the rabbits too?

michael   Fri Dec 28 2007

Does anyone know of references to yew berries being used in traditional Christmas puddings?

Jill Rixon   Mon Jan 14 2008

I have heard that yew clippings should not be composted - is this true?

Peer Zada Ishtiyak   Wed Jun 11 2008

Taxus baccata taxus baccata is a wonder tree. Besides its ornamental value,i t is the main source of an alcolide Taxin (which is used in the preparation of a drug taxol used to treat the patients of breast and uterus cancer. my only request is we should work for its protection not exploitation

   Tue Jun 17 2008

Msg for Jill Rixon - No, don't compost your yew clippings, donate them for scientific research in curing cancer! Msg for Oscvar - Don't panic your Yew hedge will be fine just don't let your kids eat it! Cheers, Rapp Scallion.

dr kashinath   Sat Jul 12 2008

what are the che midal contnts of its leaves?

tushar pimpale   Sun Aug 3 2008

How it acts as a contraceptive?

Dr. Srihariom Verma   Tue Aug 12 2008

i want to cultivate T.bacata for taxol,so pl.tell me in how much time i can get commercial stage. thanks for u'r valuable info.. pl. gaide me in this respect.

Ludd   Sun Aug 17 2008

I quote from The foliage and seeds contain several alkaloids, in particular taxine, very poisonous, which alters to hydrotaxine by hydrolysis. Also one glucoside, taxicatine. The wood, bark, foliage and seeds are toxic. The foliage is the principal source of taxine. Old and desiccated foliage are more poisonous than young and fresh foliage. Poisoning is frequent in animals. Horses, asses and mules are extremely sensitive and can be killed in less than one hour. Rabbits, guinea-pigs and cats are insensitive to taxine. In humans, the yew generates digestive, nervous, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders which can result in death. Symptoms include excitation, hyperventilation, and tachycardia, followed by deceleration of the heart, hypotension, nausea, stomach pains, cramps, giddinesses, colic, violent diarrhoea, dizzy spells, convulsions, coma and death. The red aril surrounding the seed can be eaten just as it is like delicacy with the proviso of not chewing the seed. It is sweetened and very mucilagineux. The arilles, removed from their seeds, have diuretic and laxative effects (L'Herbier Virtuel).

Chheku   Mon Jan 19 2009

can we market the plant commercially

raj   Tue Jul 21 2009

about the taxus baccata i need all the information

harry   Wed Sep 30 2009

HI is this tree dangerous to dogs

david   Fri Oct 23 2009

The toxins in the leaves bark and seeds can kill dogs, I expect playing stick with branches would be the only time they are very likely to be poisoned since they're meat eaters. I don't have any reports of actual poisoning.

cathy   Mon Nov 9 2009

Is taxus poisonous to other plants?

   Wed Nov 18 2009

i ate a seed after chewing on it for 2 minuntes and i was paralized for ten minuntes

Mohammad Lateef Bhat   Tue Jan 12 2010

Vegetative prorogation of the Taxus baccata is being carried out by the Research Forest Division on large scale ,just to boost its natural regeneration ,it is astonishing to inform you that the said tree is being axed for firewood.This is simply ignorance about the uses of tree, nothing else

   Nov 29 2010 12:00AM

We visited Heidelberg Castle in Heidelberg, Germany today, and found several of these huge beautiful trees with berries on them. I had never seen such a tree and was amazed at the size of the trunk, the height, and width of the branches, as well as the beauty of the berries . . . very festive and grandure! We recently purchased an old "balm schule," tree farm, here in Germany, and wanted to plant at least one of these trees, so I began to do research and found your web site. I took a clipping of one of the branches, so I could compare it to photos on the internet to find out what kind of tree this was. Of course, I found out that it was a Taxus Baccata Yew Tree. What I would like to know is this: Since I have a cutting of a branch, can I plant the branch, water it, and will it grow? Since it has many ripe seeds on the branch, would it be better to plant the seeds, and do I plant them with the berry, or by themselves? Would I plant a single seed, or would it be better to plant two or three together? How deep do I plant the seed, and is this time of year (cool and windy right now) a good time to plant a cutting, and/or a seed? If so, would I keep the pot inside, or outside, during the colder winter months? Should I fertilize, and if so, how often and with what? Thank you for any help you have to offer!

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