yew is an ideal ornamental shrub to constitute beautiful hedges or for topiary art. Because of its exceptional longevity, it has long been associated with death, as a link between heaven and earth. Therefore, because of this symbolism, it is often found in cemeteries. Yew is poisonous except for the aril pulp which is the red berry produced by female specimens. The seed and needles of yew are also poisonous. So be very vigilant.

The yew, a conifer with an exceptional lifespan

Can reach up to 20 meters highyew (Taxus baccata) is a non-resinous conifer found in Europe and North America. It is a tree whose lifespan is among the longest. For illustration, the oldest yew in France is found in Brittany (Pommerit-le-Vicomte), which is estimated to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. The oldest yew in Europe, 2000 years old is located in Scotland. However, yew forests have become rare in Europe due to the toxicity of the tree. A stand of yews is called I will.

The yew has a straight and robust trunk crowned with branches from its base. Its shape is rather irregular. This evergreen conifer consists of long, flat, non-prickly needles of dark green color.

The poison of yew is taxinean alkaloid very dangerous. According to this specialized site on treesthe Gauls used this poison for hunting and called it Ivoswhich would have given its name to the yew.

Credit:Matthew J Thomas/iStock


Are you considering planting a hedge? The yew is a hardy conifer slow growing that is valued for its dense foliage and ease of maintenance. It supports negative temperatures down to -15°C. Another advantage is that it tolerates pollution well. For a hedge of about 1m80 to 2 meters high, respect a distance from 80 cm to 1 meter between the plants. Indeed, as it grows, the yew takes up space and it is therefore necessary to anticipate its future circumference which can exceed 4 meters. As an isolated subject, the Taxus baccata is also a good candidate for topiary. After planting, water regularly for two years to facilitate rooting.

The yew is a robust tree that appreciates:

  • Cool ground and humid atmosphere
  • Sun or shade exposure
  • Acidic or calcareous soil
topiary yew
Credits: Michel Viard/iStock


The female yew produces edible bright red berries (arils). Attention, with the exception of the arils, all parts of yew are poisonous : the bark, the needle and the seed contained in the fruit. Only the carmine pulp can be eaten when ripe from September to December. The aril has a sweet and mucilaginous flavor which allows it to be eaten in jam.
Never forget that the seed is poisonous. This is why the consumption of yew fruit is not recommended. Be very vigilant and if in doubt, do not eat the fruit.

The berry is also popular with birds, which do not digest the seeds and scatter them. Mammals and especially horses are also very fond of berries. However, a single bite is deadly for equines, as they ingest the seed and are very sensitive to taxine.

yew aril

Credit: ajt/iStock

Yew pruning and care

For a hedge, prefer pruning in early spring (stimulation pruning) or in the fall. In topiary art, carry out a slight pruning in August. However, remember to pick up all pruning debris to avoid accidental ingestion.

The yew is a robust tree that does not fear disease. Although it is not very demanding in terms of maintenance, it does however need special attention with regard to watering at the start of its life: be regular the first two years and in the event of drought.

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