Research Branch

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A Summary of Western Yew Biology with Recommendations for its Management in British Columbia

Author(s) or contact(s): E. Campbell and A. Nicholson
Source: Research Branch
Subject: Conifers
Series: Land Management Handbook
Other details:  Published 1995. Hardcopy is available.


Considerable interest in western yew (Taxus brevifolia Nutt.) has been sparked by the recently discovered anti-cancer properties of taxol, a chemical extracted from the bark of this conifer. Clinical trials show that taxol is a successful treatment for approximately 30% of women whose ovarian cancers resist conventional therapies (Stone 1993). Taxol also shows promise in treating breast, head, and neck tumors (Stone 1993). These positive results have greatly increased the demand for taxol obtained from wild western yew trees. Scientists do not expect an alternative taxol source to be available on a commercial scale for about three years.

Wild western yew trees are a limited resource and are not considered as an option for the long-term supply of taxol. They are small, slow growing, and uncommon relative to other commercial tree species. Furthermore, large quantities of bark are required to produce small quantities of taxol. There is concern that continued reliance on naturally occurring western yew will diminish this resource, jeopardizing the supply of taxol and threatening the species. The effect of western yew harvest on ecosystem structure, function, and diversity is also a concern.

Existing Ministry of Forests policy on resource management dictates that western yew can be harvested in designated areas (i.e., areas approved for harvesting, and other areas, with a free-use permit).

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Updated May 03, 2007