English Yew – Taxus Baccata
Yew is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate trees. These are visible in March and April. Male flowers are insignificant white-yellow globe-like structures. Female flowers are bud-like and scaly, and green when young but becoming brown and acorn-like with age.
Unlike many other conifers, the common yew does not actually bear its seeds in a cone. Instead, each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure known as an aril which is open at the tip
WHERE TO FIND YEW
Yew is commonly found growing in southern England and often forms the understorey in beech woodland. It can be used as a hedging plant and is common in churchyards.
VALUE TO WILDLIFE
Yew hedges are incredibly dense, offering protection and nesting opportunities for many birds. The goldcrest and firecrest nest in broadleaf woodland with yew understoreys.
The fruit is eaten by birds, such as the blackbird, mistle thrush, song thrush and fieldfare; and small mammals, including squirrels and dormice. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the satin beauty moth.
USES OF YEW
Yew timber is incredibly strong and durable. Traditionally, the wood was used in turnery and to make long bows and tool handles. One of the World's oldest surviving wooden artefacts is a yew spear head estimated to be around 450,000 years old.
Anti-cancer compounds are harvested from the foliage of Taxus baccata and used in modern medicine. Yew trees contain the highly poisonous taxane alkaloids that have been developed as anti-cancer drugs. Eating just a few leaves can make a small child severely ill and there have been some deaths linked to yew poisoning. All parts of the tree are poisonous.