Yews (Taxus spp.)

Yews are very popular needled evergreen multi-stemmed shrubs and trees that are grown in residential yards throughout the eastern and midwestern regions of the United States. They are popular because they have a dense, compact appearance, are easy to transplant, and tolerate heavy pruning and urban pollution (except road salt). They are tolerant of both poor soils and dry conditions. One of the oldest plants known to mankind, the many different kinds of Yews require little maintenance and have few pest or disease problems. With ornamental deep green needles and red berries they are commonly used as foundation plants, but make fine groundcovers, hedges and specimens too. Dwarf and weeping types increase their versatility.

Yew trees are native to Britain and particularly common in England and Wales, where they have been planted in many churchyards. These evergreen trees grow very slowly and live for many hundreds of years. Some old yew trees are believed to be over 2000 years old. Longbows were made from yew, and this durable wood has been used in turning wooden bowls and as a veneer by furniture makers.

While there is a Yew that is native to the U.S. (Taxus canadensis ), the most common yews used in the home landscape are the Japanese Yew, the English Yew, or a hybrid of the two. The resulting Intermediate Hybrid Yew (Taxus x media) has the hardiness of the Japanese and the shape and habit of the English, making it particularly suited to yards in the northern US. Taxus x media is known as a tough, drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with flat-needled shiny foliage, often spreading and used as a formal or informal hedge, especially at entranceways and foundations and very common in landscapes of the Midwestern United States. Other Yews, such as the Native American Yew and Pacific Yew (which is the source of taxol, a very promising drug for cancer treatment) grow as trees in the wild. All parts of Yews are poisonous to humans and pets. However, deer definitely love these shrubs; Yews are ice cream for deer.

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