(Species: Taxus baccata - Family: Taxaceae )
Taxus and its origins
Yew is a small group of about seven species of coniferous evergreens that grow in the wild throughout northern, temperate regions.
Yew trees can be centuries old, its wood is supposed to outlive iron and are frequently found in ancient churchyards and burial sites.
Yews make handsome garden conifers and have been widely used through the centuries to make what are still considered to be the finest garden hedges thanks to their high green walls and year-round effective screens and windbreaks. Yew is a handsome shade of deep green and clips well into sharp silhouettes, making excellent topiary. The long, thin needles are carried in double rows, and the male and flowers grow on separate plants.
The common yew, Taxus baccata, is used for hedging. Taxus baccata Fastigiata, or Irish yew, makes a good columnar tree of closely-packed, upward sweeping branches, and eventually reaches 4.5m; Taxus baccata Fastigiata Aureomarginata has yellow-tipped leaves. Semperaurea is a slow-growing, medium-sized bush with the asset of rich yellow foliage; Rependans is a low-growing bush with long, spreading branches that thrives equally in sun or full shade.
How to grow
Taxus is more tolerant of difficult garden situations than most conifers, and will even tolerate heavy shade. However the one essential is well-drained soil because yews cannot stand waterlogging, especially in winter. Incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil when planting Yews to give them the best possible start.
When planting a yew hedge, cut back straggly side growths to leave the line of plants straight sided, making the bottom of each plant a little wider than the top. Do not cut off the growing tip until the hedge is just above the height you want it to be. Pruning is simple: just trim at any time of the year, but reserve major surgery for midwinter, when the plant is dormant. Yew is very forgiving, and will resprout from the oldest wood.
Take semi-ripe Taxus cuttings in late summer. Use upright shoots to ensure a strong leading shoot. You will need patience though as yews are slow-growing.
Did you know?
Although taxus is toxic if eaten, yew tincture is used in homeopathy.
In the recent past, the clippings of yew hedges have been collected from large gardens and a substance called taxol extracted from them and used in the manufacture of tamixofen, the cancer-treating drug. It has since been discovered that the taxol is produced by a fungus that lives throughout the tree. Scientists are now able to grow the fungus outside the tree and thus tamoxifen can be produced in greater quantity and at lower cost
Yew provides the deepest green shade of all conifers