Taxus baccata (English Yew)
Price £ each (ex VAT)
Bareroot from November to April
The prices above are offered as a guide and may be subject to fluctuation dependant upon the time of season and supply. We recommend that contact is made with the office for larger orders, a quotation and to check availability Alternatively please contact us to enquire about opening a wholesale account.
One of only three native British conifers, yew is often seen in woodlands and gardens where its blackish-green foliage and shaggy red-brown bark make it the most identifiable of trees. With dark, narrow leaves and a very dense habit of growth, it makes an ideal hedge (arguably the best), is often used for topiary and has good wildlife value. Yews are probably the longest-lived European tree; estimates put some specimens at over 2,000 years old.
Site and soil
Yew does well on all but the very wettest of soils. It prefers well-drained soil, either acid sands or chalk and is good on exposed coastal sites. It can cope with dense shade and is tolerant of pollution.
Height and spread
After 10 years: 2.5m x 1m
After 20 years: 5m x 1.5m
Leaf and bark
The leaves are very narrow, a dark blackish-brown, paler on the undersides. The bark is dark brown, peeling in strips to reveal reddish patches beneath. The leaves, wood and bark are poisonous.
Flower, seed and fruit
Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Both open in March, the males larger, to 0.6cm, and yellow, the females green and tiny. Male trees shed copious amounts of pollen as the flowers mature. The female flowers ripen to form red, berry-like fruits called arils, enclosing a single seed. The seed is poisonous, although the flesh of the aril is not.
Specimen tree, woodland, parkland, topiary and hedging. Although yew has a reputation for being slow-growing, it is faster when young and hedges planted in well-prepared ground should make 30-40cm of growth a year. Large topiary specimens are used to line avenues in grand houses, and yew hedges were traditionally used as a backdrop to large herbaceous borders.
Yew was famously used to make English longbows, and it is used to make furniture and in cabinet making. Yews have a strong association with churchyards, where it has been suggested that they were planted to protect and purify the dead, but many trees are older than the churches themselves and they are thought to have been sacred to the earlier Druidic religion. Yew leaves are collected commercially to make the drug Tamoxifen which is used to treat breast cancer.
Yew provides nesting sites and shelter for a variety of birds. Insects shelter in the peeling bark, and Tree- creepers are often to be seen searching them out. Birds like thrushes, fieldfares and waxwings feed on the fleshy arils, whilst others, like the Blue Tit, eat the seeds. Yews tend to become hollow with great age and insects, birds and small mammals colonise the opening for shelter and food.
Hedges and topiary should be trimmed once a year in summer. Older specimens or hedging which has lost its shape can be hard-pruned in late winter, but it is safest to cut back half the plant one year, wait for re-growth, then finish cutting back the following year. Ensure that heavily pruned plants are well fed and watered after pruning.