is a genus of small coniferous trees or shrubs in family Taxaceae
, containing about 9 species and hundreds of cultivars. Commonly known as Yew. They are an excellent hedging and topiary plant as they respond well to pruning. Mature tree can reach a height of 40m with a diameter of 4m. Taxus have reddish bark with dark green leaves of 1-4cm long and 2-3mm broad and lanceolate in shape. The seed of Yew is contained in a cone, protected by a fleshy and red-colored aril. The brightly colored arils attract fruit-eating birds like thrushes and waxwings which passed out the undamaged seeds in their droppings.
All species of taxus contain highly poisonous alkaloids called taxanes. All parts of the tree except the arils contain the alkaloid. The arils are non-toxic, edible and sweet, but the seed is dangerously poisonous. It can be fatal to consume arils without removing the seed, as human stomach can break down the seed coat and release the taxanes into the body. Yew wood is springy and traditionally used in bow making, especially the long bow. In northern Europe, most longbow made of yews were imported from Iberia where the climate is suitable for growing knot-free yew wood.
Yew trees can be found in church graveyard as they are a symbol of sadness. Yew trees are also facing the fate of extinction if over-collection and deforestation are not in control. Taxus brevifolia
(Pacific Yew) and Taxus canadensis
(Canada Yew) are the main source for paclitaxel, the chemotherapeutic drug used in treating breast and lung cancer. Over-harvesting for this drug has resulted in Pacific Yew becoming an endangered species.
Yew trees are hardy and grow well in sun or shade, and well-drained soil. Propagation is done by ripe seed and semi-ripe cuttings in late summer.
Taxus x media