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Taxus baccata (common yew)

A densely branching evergreen that can live for centuries, the common yew is often found in British churchyards.
Taxus baccata on a ruined wall at Waverley Abbey, Surrey

Taxus baccata on a ruined wall at Waverley Abbey, Surrey.

Species information

Scientific name: 

Taxus baccata L.

Common name: 

common yew, English yew

Conservation status: 

Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Oak and beech woodland, often on chalk or limestone substrates.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental, timber, wood for bow-making, medicinal.

Known hazards: 

The seeds, leaves and bark are highly poisonous and can cause fatal poisoning of humans and livestock.


Genus: Taxus

About this species

Taxus baccata, although native to Britain and sometimes referred to as the English yew, is also found across much of Europe, western Asia and North Africa. The generic name Taxus is reflected in the name of the poisonous taxanes found in the tree. Some botanists did not consider yew to be a true conifer, since it does not bear its seeds in a cone. However, proper consideration of its evolutionary relationships now places the yew family (Taxaceae) firmly within the conifers.

Medicinal Uses

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 fatalities have occurred. All parts of the tree are poisonous, with the exception of the bright red arils. The arils are harmless, fleshy, cup-like structures, partially enveloping the seeds, which are eaten by birds (which disperse the seeds); however, the black seeds inside them should not be eaten as they contain poisonous alkaloids.



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