Yew, also known as (Taxus baccata), is a native conifer to the United Kingdom, large parts of Europe as well as North Africa. |
It is evergreen, so it keeps its green leaves all year round and is one of the longest lived trees in the north of Europe. You will mostly find it growing to the south of England in the understory around beech woodland. It is most commonly seen as a hedge, planted around churchyard boundaries.
Yew Tree Identification:
Once fully mature, a yew tree will grow to about 20m tall. It has brown to red, peeling bark and can appear purple, when looked at from side to side. The leaves are green, small and needle-like, which are straight with pointed tips and appear grey to green below. They form in pairs either side of the twigs.
Yew trees are dioecious, which means reproductive parts are found on different trees of the same species, during March to April. The male anthers (flowers) are circular shaped and yellow to white in colour, while females are like small buds, which are green when young and turn to a brown acorn-like seeds when developed. Because it is a conifer, it does not yield fruits. The red berries surrounding the seeds are modified cones.
The foliage of the tree is very toxic and contains alkaloids, just like the seed coat. The aril inside isn't toxic and is a great source of food for blackbirds, which widely disperse the seeds. Green finches can remove this toxic coat to feast on the nutritious embryo. Interesting fact: Taxus baccata can live for over 500 years and at least ten yews in the UK are thought to exist before the 10th century.
Significance to Wildlife:
Lots of birds nest in the large, dense canopy of the tree, which also provides them with shelter and protection. The smallest birds in the UK, such as the firecrest and goldcrest nest in yew understory woodland.
Birds eat the fruits of the tree including song thrush, blackbird, fieldfare and mistle thrush. Small mammals also eat the fruits, for example: dormice and squirrels. Caterpillars of many moths eat the foliage; one in particular is the satin beauty moth.
How We Use Yew:
It has a striking brown to orange coloured timber and is extremely strong and long-lasting, and is the reason why dead trees remain standing for so long. It was used in turnery for many years to craft bows, arrows and hand tools. The Taxus baccata has anti-cancer properties that can be extracted from the foliage and are used in today for medicinal purposes.
Threats, Pests and Diseases:
The tree is better at dealing with pests and diseases than most other trees but is still vulnerable to rot root.
GraftinGardeners are tree specialists and have been performing arboriculture for over a decade. Our company can accommodate for whatever tree services you require. Graftingardeners operate all around Kew, so call us if you need us.
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