Western yew

Taxus brevifolia
Western yew Western yew

A low spreading shrub to a small tree, 5 to 15 metres tall; young trees are often square in profile, becoming more cone-shaped with age. The trunk is twisted and becomes very wide near the base, with horizontally spreading branches.

Western yew leaves and fruit

Needles are flat, about 2 centimetres long, with a distinctive pointed tip; dark yellowish-green, arranged spirally on twigs but twisted so that they appear to grow in two rows.

Seed and pollen cones usually appear on separate trees. The fruit consists of a coral-red fleshy cup that is open at one end and contains a single seed.

Western yew bark Bark
Thin, dark reddish or purplish scales shed off the trunk and expose a rose-coloured underbark.

Where to find western yew
It occurs scattered throughout the wetter forests of the coast and the Interior wet belt, primarily at low to mid elevations.

Western yew occurs on a wide variety of sites, from dry and rocky to moist depressions and ravines; it generally occurs on sites that have abundant soil nutrients. It often occurs together with Douglas-fir, western redcedar, and western hemlock, as well as plants such as salal, Oregon-grape, or skunk cabbage.

Where it does occur, it is important food for black-tailed deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Several birds - including blackbirds, waxwings and nuthatches - and various small rodents eat the fruit. In so doing, they scatter the seed away from the tree.

Where to find western yew
Native mask Uses
Although the fruit of western yew is considered toxic, some coastal native groups occasionally ate it in small amounts.Caution

The native people used the strong, stiff wood for making items such as bows, tools, paddles, and prying sticks. It is still used for making bows and paddles.

Interior peoples sometimes used the branches to make snowshoe frames.

The bark of western yew contains a compound called taxol, which shows promise in treating some forms of cancer.Caution

Taxus is a Latin word for "bow." Some historians believe that Robin Hood's bow was made from English yew.

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