Poison Yew Tree: Special ‘Regeneration,’ Yew Tree Types, Growing, Care Guide

Oval green frame of a yew tree showing a specific yew tree type, which outlines how to grow, how to identify yew tree leaves, bark, flowers, poison yew tree dangers, growing zones and care tips.

As dangerous trees go, the Poison Yew Tree isn’t the most dangerous, but it features a special ‘regeneration’ feature that not many others have.

Yew trees aren’t known for their colorful flowers or fall foliage, but it’s ability to regenerate itself is truly surprising.

Moreover, the berries can be used… if done correctly.

This complete guide outlines how to identify Poison Yew trees as well as how to grow them and enjoy their unique beauty. 

Taxus baccata: Yew Tree Leaves, Yew Tree Flower, Yew Tree Seeds

The Yew Tree (Taxus baccata) is native across most of Europe,5 Africa, and Asia, where the sweet-tasting Yew Berries, called arils, are consumed as a delicacy, made into jams, and processed into wine.

Bright red, with an open end, the small round aril is the only part of the tree that is edible.

To eat any other part of these plants, the leaves, the flowers, or even the seeds could lead to a trip to the emergency room.

Yew Tree

(Taxus baccata)

Yew tree in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Taxaceae
  • Genus: Taxus
  • Leaf: Dark green on the top side, lighter underneath. Long and needle-like
  • Bark: Thin and reddish-brown with a scaly texture, and flakes easily
  • Seed: One small light brown seed per fruit, 4-7mm long
  • Blossoms: March and April
  • Fruit: It bears an open-tipped red berry called an aril
  • Native Habitat: Native to Europe, northwest Africa, Iran, and southwest Asia
  • Height: 35 - 65 Feet
  • Canopy: Up to 20 feet
  • Type: Evergreen
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 - 8

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Katja Fissel (Katja_Kolumna)20

Animals and birds snack on the fruit, mainly with the seeds passing through their system without being chewed, and without suffering any adverse side effects.

But other smaller mammals have died so quickly that the parts of a tree eaten by them remain still half-chewed in their mouths.

If ingested by household pets or horses, death can occur in as little as 2-3 hours.

For humans, the symptoms are numerous and can also end in death.

  • Muscle tremors
  • Inability to walk
  • Low blood pressure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Nausea
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Shivering
  • Bradycardia
  • Heart failure

When handling the flowers, which are more like stamens that produce pollen, or the needle-like leaves, it is advisable to thoroughly wash your hands to remove any traces of toxins as a precaution.

This particular poisonous compound is called taxines and is specifically found in these types of trees.

If a Yew Tree occupies a place in your backyard, always wear gardening gloves when pruning or clearing away any berries that may fall around the base, just in case.

There have been cases where inhalation of spores alone has triggered negative reactions so masks and goggles should also be worn.

Yew Tree Poison (Types of Yew Tree)

Not all Yew Trees have the same level of taxines, of this toxic compound, as others.

Taxus canadensis (Canadian Yew) is not as toxic as Taxus baccata (English Yew) for example, and the other 15 types have varying levels of toxicity and severity.

Yew tree identification chart showing Yew tree leaves, Yew tree flowers, Yew tree fruit, and Yew tree bark images in circle frames on a green background.

But the bottom line, the hard truth, is that all of the trees listed below have the capacity to be fatal if certain parts of them are consumed in any form or quantity, or handled incorrectly.

Type of Yew TreeCommon Name
Taxus baccataCommon Yew or European Yew or English Yew12
Taxus canadensisCanadian Yew
Taxus brevifoliaWestern Yew or Pacific Yew13
Taxus cuspidataJapanese Yew14
Taxus phytoniiPhyton Yew
Taxus chinensisChinese Yew
Taxus contortaWest Himalayan Yew
Taxus sumatranaTaiwan Yew
Taxus scutataScutaceous Yew
Taxus wallichianaEast Himalayan Yew
Taxus globosaMexican Yew
Taxus floridanaFlorida Yew
Taxus kingstoniiKingston Yew
Taxus fastigiataIrish Yew
Taxus celebicaCelebes Yew
Taxus ocreataScaly Yew
Taxus maireiMaire’s Yew

So what exactly are taxines that make the Yew Tree so detrimental to survival?

What Are Taxines?

The poisonous substances that are integrated into all parts of the Yew Plants are known as taxine alkaloids.2

Taxus baccata and Taxus cuspidata have the highest concentrations of taxine alkaloids, depending on the Yew species, of which there are 10. The two main ones are taxine A and taxine B bring the most potency and unlike some taxines found in other trees that have commercial applications, taxine alkaloids have no known medical use.

This poisonous substance is found literally in all parts of the Yew Tree, from the leaves to the seeds to the very bark itself. And that toxicity affects the animal kingdom as well as humans.

The allure and the temptation are from the juicy sweet berries. Some people are unaware of the severity of even having the seeds in their mouths and tend to eat the arils like grapes.

But unlike grapes, popping the entire fruit in your mouth and spitting out the seed is not advised. By simply having the seeds in your mouth mixed with saliva for a short amount of time can become life-threatening, especially in young children.

Even extracting the seed before eating and cleaning the aril poses risks. To avoid any allergic reactions it would be better to avoid eating them altogether and stick to grapes.

There has been a case on at least one occasion, where hundreds of berries have been eaten at one time resulting in carcinogenic shock and a near-death experience. If not for the assistance of a specialist cardiac center the victim would have succumbed to the poison from this tasty yet deadly treat.

Yew Tree Growing Zone

The Yew Tree is quintessentially British, an iconic feature in church graveyards for centuries all across the country, and has been dated as being one of the oldest tree species in Europe.

In the United States, it grows in USDA hardiness zones 3-8 but may survive in zones 2, 9, and 10.

It is known as a very hardy tree, preferring a slightly drier soil composition than other trees. As long as the ground has a fair amount of moisture, the root health of the trees is assured and they are good to grow.9

The roots do not react well to sitting in waterlogged soil so if caring for a Yew Tree, water sparingly as the roots are the key to its amazing ability to live for centuries. Damage the roots in any way and you could be cutting a hundred years or more from its life span.

This longevity is due to a regenerative gene that few other trees possess, a way to regrow itself when it becomes too old. Other trees do have survival and reproduction phases, but not like the Yew Tree.

And it all comes down to the roots. Their role in the tree’s ability to withstand storms and hurricanes, to absorb nutrients, water, and food is pivotal in the legend the tree has garnered that it is a forever tree.,

Roots anchor the tree firmly into the ground to prevent upheaval under the harshest conditions and release food back into the soil to feed the beneficial microorganisms that in turn provide the nutrients. But not all roots are created equal.

The roots of a tree generally descend to a depth of about 3 feet, spreading its tentacles far and wide for extra stability. In this fashion, they are fairly close to the surface and can easily suffer from chemicals leaching through the soil, or the soil itself becoming too compacted for them to stretch and breathe.

The underground spread of the roots is determined by the size of the tree trunk and the width of the canopy,8 and that width will range from 5-7 times wider than the circumference of the trunk.

So what makes the Yew Tree so different?

How Long It Takes To Grow Yew Tree? (Yew Tree Special ‘Regeneration’)

It is important to realize that a Yew Tree is a slow grower, at best achieving 30 cm a year in height.

And, amazingly, it is not considered to be old until it becomes 900 years old.

Yew tree growth chart showing full grown Yew tree on a line graph with Yew tree age on the x-axis and Yew tree height on the y-axis.

As expected from a tree of that age, it will not have the outward appearance of a young seedling, in fact, it will probably be looking quite ancient – until it decides to give itself a makeover.

No one has actually determined what instigates this amazing process of rejuvenation, what the determining catalyst is that sparks the wizened and withered old tree to spark up and grow brand new roots. But that is exactly what happens.

Even if the tree is so old that the trunk has become hollowed out after the interior heartwood has decayed and the bark has long since fallen away to leave a gray, smooth surface, the emergence of new, fresh roots pushing deep into the ground to hungrily absorb nutrients is the start of a rebirth.

(Image: 65223415)

The change in the tree is nothing short of remarkable as it bursts back into life, not exactly reversing the aging process but giving the tree a renewed vitality to extend its lifespan for another few centuries.

Do Trees Have Genders?

Do trees have genders? Trees do not have genders. Their methods of reproduction are classified under 4 sexual systems that are integrated into the flowers or fruits growing on the trees.1

Those systems are cosexual, monoecious, dioecious, and polygamous.

Best Growing Conditions for Yew Tree

Irrespective of whether you are growing Yew Tree from a seed, growing a Yew Tree from a cutting, or growing a Yew Tree from a seedling, the benefits of having good quality soil cannot be emphasized enough.

This has never been more important than in zones where intensive farming methods, the excessive use of pesticides, or the increasing deforestation of farmland every year, is contributing to the erosion of once good-quality soil.

On a worldwide scale and in monetary terms, losses of over $400 billion a year are being recorded in lost food production alone on a level that cannot be sustained for much longer.

If this daunting rate of soil erosion continues,11 within 50 years there is liable to be a food shortage problem for many more nations than there already are. Those same nations may soon be encountering food scarcity problems at unprecedented levels that could then even lead to catastrophic famine situations.

Government agencies in Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America, New Zealand, and the United States are actively promoting a method of improving soil health called regenerative agriculture.

Finding growing zones for Yew Tree, where to grow this iconic tree could become a challenge, and it would be a shame to witness the Yew Tree being labeled in the future as a tree in danger of going extinct.

The ultimate goal of regenerative farming is to ensure that sustainable farming methods are employed to rejuvenate severely damaged tracts of once usable farming land and sustain the land in use now.

By doing so, more food will be grown, greenhouse emissions and the emission of carbon dioxide will be reduced, and many biodiverse ecosystems will not come under threat.

Close up photo of a branch of yew tree, with its needle-like leaves and small red fruits.

(Image: DominikRh16)

Stopping land erosion on such a massive scale is not unattainable, and the worldwide initiative aims to educate farmers on how to rotate crops, how to include the use of organic products including manure on their land, and how to move animals around pastures to prevent overgrazing.

Implementing these simple changes and altering the farming methods that have been used for generations, would vastly increase the yield of crops, and increase local biodiversity by attracting beneficial insects and pollinators.

In Brazil, East Africa, and Australia, many farmers have taken to planting companion plants alongside their usual commercial products to improve the quality of the soil, grow more crops – and make more profits.

As a gardener or landscaper in the United States, you can do your part to combat climate change and boost the quality of the soil by planting companion plants for growing Yew Tree in your backyard.

How Much Carbon Does Yew Tree Sequester?

Just by its sheer size and longevity, a Yew Tree is very adept at absorbing carbon dioxide. The amount is determined by the age, size, and density of the wood of the tree.

Traditionally the density of hardwood singles them out as being excellent at carbon sequestration to combat global warming,3 and the Yew Tree is no exception.

Traditionally, an average tree absorbs about 25 kg of C02, a very mature Yew Tree will be in the range of about 40 kg of carbon absorption a year.

To get a more accurate reading, the exact measurements and age of the tree and if it is a fast or slow grower would have to be inputted into an online calculator.

Yew Shrub: Yew Bush and Yew Hedges

A typical Yew Tree grows to a height of just 20 feet. In certain places throughout the UK, however, it has come to be known as the King of Hedges.

Its evergreen nature enables it to have incredibly dense foliage that makes it ideal for privacy hedges, and sometimes gardeners with a creative flair have trimmed these bushes into interesting animal shapes.

Maintaining the height when it is used as a boundary hedge is incredibly easy as a sharp pair of shears will keep it uniform and at the desired height, and the hicks Yew hedge is often a popular choice.

The dwarf versions of the Yew Tree are even more versatile and have been trimmed, coaxed, and shaped into myriad forms and a myriad of uses, despite their inclusion on the dangerous trees list.

Dwarf Yew (How To Identify Yew Tree: Yew Tree Identification)

The dwarf varieties of the Yew Tree have a little bit of everything for everybody – even if there are only a few of them.

They can be molded into whatever shape is required, and grown in containers to remain as even smaller shrubs, or even as evergreen ground coverings.

Semi-docused photo of the fruit and leaves of yew tree.

(Image: gossiag17)

Options are there but equally, the taller Yew Trees can be pruned to remain smaller and situated in a multitude of diverse locations.

Dwarf YewHeightUSDA Hardiness ZoneDescription
‘Green Wave’ Yew
Taxus cuspidata7 ‘Green Wave’
4 Feet TallZones 4-7Wide-spreading, dark green evergreen needle leaves
Japanese Yew
Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’’
3 Feet TallZones 4-7Leaves have a slight yellow tint and the thick foliage may turn golden in winter
Densiformis Yew
Taxus media ‘Densiformis’
4 Feet TallZones 5-7Very dense foliage and grows 6 feet in width.
Taunton Yew
Taxus media ‘Tauntonii’
4 Feet tallZones 5-7Easy to shape in shrubs as only grows 3 feet wide
Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis65 Feet TallZones 3-7Withstands cold days and in winter leaves are reddish-brown in color
English Yew ‘Repandens4 Feet TallZones 6-8Ideal for rock gardens, ground cover, and foundations as it spreads up to 15 feet wide
Green Mountain Taxus x media ‘Green Mountain’5 Feet TallZones 5-8Fast growing so needs trimming more frequently but spreads up to 6 feet so makes for a perfect hedge

Common Pests of the Yew Tree

Natural pest control for Yew Tree begins with vigilance and then quick actions to eradicate the infestations.

Close up image of the Black Vine Weevil while on a leaf.

(Image: Holger Krisp18)

Despite the poisonous nature of the tree, there are several insects that besiege it from an early age mercilessly with no regard for the reputation the Yew Tree predecessors have garnered since before the time of the Druids.

  • Black Vine Weevil, Otiorhynchus sulcatus

Nurseries and seedlings whether in gardens or pots are the prime targets of these 7mm devils as they target the fledgling roots. The tiny grubs assault the roots and decimate them before moving on to gnaw greedily on the bark, more often than not causing girdling if not halted in their tracks.

So serious is their presence that wounded plants often die after their crowns first turn an unhealthy yellow, and then a withered brown.

Treatment –

The larva cause the most damage and applying a foliar spray before the eggs hatch will kill them off. Adults will appear dead from the poisoning but may spring back to life within a few days so should be picked off and disposed of just in case.

  • Mealybugs

These tiny white insects are easy to spot as they scurry over leaves, stems, and fruits, piercing the plant’s surface with their long stylets to suck out the sap inside. A few of them won’t cause significant damage.

A few hundred of them will. The leaves will curl and yellow and the honeydew residue that they leave in their wake will encourage mold and other diseases to take hold and further threaten the health of your Yew Tree.

Treatment –

Prune yellowed leaves and spray them with insecticidal soap and neem oil to deter any resurgence.

Other pests to be wary of are scale insects and specifically the Cottony Camellia Scale,10 also known as the Taxus scale. Although not deadly in and of themselves, if they are not treated with insecticides or pesticides quickly they will make the life of your plant miserable.

Yew Tree Disease Prevention

Knowing beforehand how to stop Yew Tree disease will save time, save on expensive treatments, and save on stress levels for you and your tree.

Root rot is the result of overwatering and is one of the main diseases that the Yew Tree owner has to prevent from occurring.

One of the first planting tips for Yew Tree starts with choosing well-draining soil. Too much water settling around the roots can cause the growth of the plant to stall, twig dieback, and in a worst-case scenario the death of the tree.

If you suspect that the roots are sitting in waterlogged soil, mulch around the base to absorb any excess and water sparingly in the future. The roots of Yew Trees are better off in dry soil for a month rather than submerged in an underground pool for a few weeks.

Yew Tree Symbolisms and Yew Tree Facts

Yew Trees have a contradictory history and tree symbolism. Some civilizations like the Romans believed that they were grown in hell while others believed that they were a sign of immortality because of their seemingly endless lifespan.

Hundreds of churchyards in England used them during plague times to purify the victims of the disease by planting them over their graves, and even further back in time Celtic tribes fashioned wands from the tree to banish evil spirits.

A small and young yew tree with its long, dark, green leaves.

(Image: Hans19)

Apart from these legends and stories from the past, the Yew Tree has many uses and facts that influence and affect the present

  • The Fortingall Yew is considered to be the oldest Yew Tree in the world. Its age has been assessed as being between 2000-3000 years old, but some forestry agencies have speculated that it could be anywhere between 5000-9000 years of age
  • There is an English Yew on the Bathurst Estate in the UK that holds the incredible record of the tallest hedge in the world at a height of 40 feet and 150 feet wide
  • This poisonous compound has been scientifically developed to help in the treatment of cancer. It is an active ingredient in one of the most widely used cancer drugs in the United States to treat breast cancer and Kaposi’s sarcoma4
  • In the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Norman archers used bows made from Yew Trees to slay their enemies.
  • Many birds and animals eat the sweet arils from the tree as well as the seeds. But the seeds are always intact after passing through their digestive system
  • The satin beauty moth seems to be the only creature that can consume the leaves without any life-threatening effects

The Longevity of the Yew Tree

The ability of the Yew Tree to live for an average of 1,500 years despite what nature and insect invaders can throw at it is impressive, but it undoubtedly helps that 99% of the tree is toxic to whatever walks, crawls, or flies.

Understanding the characteristics of the Poison Yew Tree and various types of yew trees can help you determine whether or not to place this unique tree in your backyard.

Frequently Asked Questions About Yew Tree

What Are the Watering Needs for Yew Tree Plants?

Watering once or twice a week is required when the Yew Tree is first planted and under drought conditions. When mature, only water as and when the soil becomes dry to the touch about 3 cm deep otherwise leave it to nature.


How Far Apart To Plant Yew Tree To Make a Hedge?

To make a privacy screen or plant Yews on a property line hedge, leave a space of about 1-2 feet between the plants so they can grow close together to eliminate any gaps, but not too close so they are competing for space.

How Much Sunlight Does Yew Tree Need Each Day?

Just 4 hours a day of sunlight is enough for a Yew Tree to flourish.

Can Touching a Yew Tree Cause Poisoning?

The have been no recorded cases of poisoning just from touching a Yew Tree.

Read More About Yew Tree


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