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Taxus baccata

Taxus baccata
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Scientific name: Taxus baccata  Linnaeus 1753

Synonyms: Cephalotaxus adpressa Beissn., Cephalotaxus brevifolia Beissn., Cephalotaxus tardiva Siebold ex Endl., Taxus adpressa Carrière, Taxus aurea K.Koch, Taxus baccifera Theophr. ex Bubani, Taxus columnaris K.Koch, Taxus communis J.Nelson, Taxus disticha Wender. ex Henkel & Hochst., Taxus dovastonii Carrière, Taxus elegantissima Carrière, Taxus elvastonensis Beissn., Taxus empetrifolia Gordon, Taxus erecta Carrière, Taxus ericoides Carrière, Taxus expansa K.Koch, Taxus fastigiata Lindl., Taxus foxii Carrière, Taxus hibernica Hook. ex Loudon, Taxus horizontalis Carrière, Taxus imperialis Gordon, Taxus jacksonii K.Koch, Taxus lugubris Salisb., Taxus marginata Carrière, Taxus michelii Carrière, Taxus microphylla Gordon, Taxus mitchellii Carrière, Taxus monstrosa Gordon, Taxus nana Parl., Taxus parvifolia Wender., Taxus pectinata Gilib., Taxus pendula Carrière, Taxus pyramidalis Carrière, Taxus pyramidalis (hort. ex Ravenscr., C. Lawson & et al.) Severin, Taxus recurvata C.Lawson, Taxus sparsifolia Loudon, Taxus tardiva (Siebold ex Endl.) C.Lawson, Taxus variegata Carrière, Taxus virgata Wall. ex Gordon, Verataxus adpressa (Carrière) Carrière

Common names: Common yew, English yew, Eibe (German), If (French), Tasso (Italian), Tejo (Spanish)



Tree (or shrub in cultivation) to 20(-29) m tall, with a fluted, short (or, less commonly, unbranched) trunk to 1.5(-3.5) m in diameter. Crown broad, dense, and rounded. Winter bud scales persistent, blunt, not keeled. Needles dark green above (or yellow or variegated in some cultivars), (1-)2-3 cm long, 2-2.5 mm broad, the stomatal bands beneath pale green, tapering gradually to the soft-pointed tip. Plants dioecious. Pollen cones 3-4 mm long. Seeds slightly flattened, (5-)6-7 mm long, conspicuous within the bright red (sometimes yellow) and (hence the scientific name, Latin for ‘berrylike’). Many groves were sacred in pre-Christian Europe, and trees were later planted or retained in cemeteries. Association with churchyards allows the identification of many individual as being centuries old. Some of the oldest are estimated to be more than 1,000 years old (or even 3,000 or more), but no such estimate is based on a full ring count because all ancient yews have decayed centers.

Most of Europe, northern Africa, western and southern Turkey, Caucasus to southern shore of Caspian Sea. Scattered or in small groves in deciduous or mixed forests, especially near streams or on moist slopes with limestone substrates, in the lowlands in the north but only in mountains in the Mediterranean region and eastwards; (0-)50-1,800(-2,100) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

The Common yew (Taxus baccata) has a very extensive range throughout Europe. Exploitation and attempts at eradication are no longer current. Cultivated rather than wild populations are exploited for chemical compounds to produce Taxol® unlike the situation with other yew species and expansion has been observed in many woodlands in recent decades. The species is considered Least Concern. The global population is increasing due to changed woodland management, which has become less intensive in many parts of Europe. In Scandinavia, it may be expected to expand inland from coastal areas if the warming climate trend continues. Taxus baccata is capable of growing under (not entirely closed) canopy of beech (Fagus spp.) as well as other deciduous broad-leaved trees, but it will only develop to large trees in more open situations. In Switzerland, the richest area of Central Europe for yew, it forms a yew-beech wood on cool, steep marl slopes in the Jura and the foothills of the Alps up to 1,400 m a.s.l. (Ellenberg 1988). Under the evergreen Common yew, nothing else will grow. In England, Taxus baccata is best developed on chalk downs - again on steep slopes - and can form extensive stands outside the beech woods invading down grassland. In much of Europe where the climate is less oceanic it survives better in mixed forests, coniferous as well as mixed broadleaved-conifer forests, again mostly on limestone substrates, and often occupying rocky cliffs and slopes. On acid soils yews perform less well under canopy and usually do not develop beyond a sapling stage in woods. Its northern limits in Scandinavia are determined by its sensitivity to severe frost. Its toxicity (all parts except the red arils around the seeds) prevent browsing by cattle and sheep, but not by rabbits and deer, as these animals have developed a level of immunity to the dangerous alkaloids. Apart from seed germination (dispersed by birds), Taxus baccata readily regenerates from stumps and roots (suckers); ancient hollow trees may rejuvenate constantly in this way. When planted, e.g. in churchyards and cemeteries, soil pH seems unimportant; some of the largest and presumably oldest specimen trees in NW Europe, in particular Brittany (France) and the British Isles, are known from such locations and were planted probably since Celtic times. Although in past centuries yew has been 'persecuted' in much of Europe and it had become rare in many areas, with the changes in woodland management and use since the nineteenth century the species has made a remarkable comeback and is not in danger of extinction in the wild. In the Middle Ages the wood of Common yew was very much in demand for longbows and crossbows and was exported from Switzerland to England (Hageneder 2007. Yews were also planted near sacred wells, early Christian churches, monasteries, and castles for symbolic/religious reasons as well as practical (military) ones. It still is one of the obligatory cemetery trees in NW and Central Europe. The hard, slow growing wood is used for gates, furniture, parquet floors, panelling, and is excellent for carving and woodturning as its contorted growth and 'burls' form intricate, vari-coloured patterns. For the same reasons yew does not provide timber suitable for construction. The toxicity to cattle and horses has led to extermination of Taxus baccata from many woodlands in past centuries, when almost all woodland served for grazing animals. Although of lower concentration than in some other species, its alkaloid taxanes, contained mostly in the leaves, yield a semi-synthesized anti-cancer drug similar to Taxol® and yew hedge clippings can still be sold to pharmaceutical companies. As an ornamental shrub or tree it reappeared in the formal gardens of the Baroque period, as it lends itself to clipped hedges and topiary of all shapes. This horticultural interest has in turn led to the development of numerous cultivars, some of which have bright yellow arils around the seeds. Common yew is present in numerous protected areas throughout its range. In Europe, several yew dominated communities are covered under the EU Habitats Directive. Additionally there are many societies in various countries devoted to yew conservation, especially older trees.



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

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