Yew Taxus baccata
Taxus baccata is a tall evergreen conifer tree reaching up to 25m in height. It grows in woods and will tolerate shade, does well on chalky soils. It is widely used in large gardens as hedges and topiary. Dark green, flat, needle like leaves, 1-3cm long growing on two sides of the stems Yellow male and tiny green female flowers appear on separate trees in late February. These turn to red, fleshy, cup shaped berry like fruits in August.
The wood is orange brown with an attractive grain which polishes well, flexibility of the wood made it ideal for long bows. The foliage and seeds are poisonous so a lot of old yews are found in church yards which where wall and kept livestock out. So we are led to believe but research has show some of the trees are in fact older then the church. This is the case in my local church this can allow us to believe the church was built on a Druid site to help attract the local Celts into the church. There is evidence of them not totally following the church and when they helped in the construction of the church they carved the Green man in the roof beams.
Celts believe in rebirth and the Yew was very important due to the trees ability to regrowth from the main trunk unlike other conifers. After the Romans had systematically eradicated the Druids belief in reincarnation disappeared. The yew forests were cut down and quick growing spruce took their places.
Now days cannot form forests without man’s yew trees are not self-fertile and need a yew of the opposite sex to set seed unlike other conifers. All parts of the tree are poisonous except the soft fruit of which birds can eat and the poisonous seed passes through its system.
Some tips if you want to grow yew.
Collect fruit when brightly coloured from a group of trees. Also look for seeds at base of trees in birds droppings. Remove flesh and stratify for two seasons, sow in early spring very slow growing. Adding to the eternal tree belief yew trees respond well to cuttings, if a branch touches the ground it is able to strike roots. If you want to guarantee getting a female yew for the fruits you are best taking cuttings from a female tree it can take up to 25 years for seed grown trees to determine male and female trees.