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The Native Irish Yew ... Taxus baccata ... Iúr

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:45 pm    Post subject: The Native Irish Yew ... Taxus baccata ... Iúr Reply with quote

The Native Irish Yew ... Taxus baccata ... Iúr

Allow me to introduce you to one of our few native evergreen trees, a tree which is also one of the oldest living within northern Europe and Ireland. This elder statesman of our local tree kingdom is the conifer, Taxus baccata, also known as the English Yew.

Yew stem, leaf and fruit, photo / pic / image.

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Taxaceae
Genus: Taxus
Species: T. baccata

Chromosome number: 2n=24.

Conical in shape, but broad, Yew is a tree which can grow up to 20 metres high in the wild, but is often used as a hedging plant due to its ease of clipping, shaping and regeneration after hard pruning. It is worth noting that for hedging, Yew is reserved for the patient gardener, as it is quite slow growing.

Beauty & Danger in equal parts.
You may often see it grown as a backdrop to shrub and perennial planting due to the neutral canvas-like effect of its leaf cover. Yew leaves can be recognised by their 2 to 3 cm length and needle-like shape, displaying a strong rib down the centre of the leaf. These flat, dark green leaves are held on branches above the Yews attractively grooved supporting trunks, which often flake to reveal reddish patches.

The male Yew trees produce cones like most conifers, but the females plants instead produce pretty, bright-red autumn berries containing one seed a-piece from early September. At this point, I feel it is my duty to make you aware that the leaves, bark, wood and seeds of the Yew tree are extremely poisonous if eaten. Although the seeds are toxic, the red casing surrounding them is not.

Birds, primarily the thrush, which feast upon the harmless sticky fleshed fruit of the Yew, survive as the poisonous seeds embedded within the fruit pass unbitten through them. That is the secret to their survival. Although poisonous to livestock, it is said that the Yew is unable to poison deer.

Yew tree in graveyard, photo / pic / image.

Pass many older graveyards throughout Ireland and you will see within them many fine examples of mature upward growing Yew trees known as Taxus baccata "Fastigiata" or Irish Yew. This form of Yew was a variety first discovered growing in the hills in Co Fermanagh on rocky limestone, then cultivated in the local Florencecourt estate.

But why was the Irish Yew regularly planted in the grounds of graveyards?
Well, there are innumerable theories as to why this particular tree was continually planted upon sacred ground, my three particular favourites being...

1/ The Yew is poisonous, so therefore it is the tree of death.

2/ The Yew is poisonous, so it was planted within walled graveyards to keep it away from grazing livestock.

3/ The Yew is long lived, so it symbolises immortality and the idea that death is not for ever.
Take your pick!

Long Life.
As mentioned, the Yew is a long-lived tree, but how long lived?
Very long lived, for example, Muckross Abbey in Killarney (founded in about 1448) has a courtyard, which contains a Yew thought to be as old as the abbey itself. Unbelievably, the oldest tree in Europe is said to be a 3,000-year-old Yew within a churchyard in Fortingall, Scotland. At one time its circumference was measured at at 16 metres (52 feet). Click for map

Yew woodland
The yew wood known as Reenadinna at Muckross, Co Kerry within Killarney National Park is Irelands only significant area of Yew woodland.
The wood covers an area of approximately 60 acres (25 hectares) on the Muckross Peninsula between the lower and middle lakes.
This amazingly is one of probably no more than three pure Yew woods in Europe. Click for map

So, if you want to grow a tree, which will, with some care, last long after you are gone, then choose Yew. It will withstand shade, dry soil and air pollution. A planting location within free-draining and preferably alkaline soil, are its basic needs.

Growing information at a glance.
Expected height: 15m / Expected spread: 4m over 50 years.
Grow in full sun or partial shade.
Soil must be fertile and well-drained.
Fruits are bright red in autumn.
All parts of the tree are highly toxic if eaten.
Main pests are Gall mites, Scale insects, Tortrix moth and Vine weevil
Main disease is Phytophthora root disease.

Other interesting Yew facts.
The area named Terenure in Dublin came from Tír an Iúr, meaning the country of the yew.

Fresh yew leaves and bark are often eaten by deer.

Even though Yew is classified as a softwood, it is in actually heavier and harder than most commercial hardwoods.

Research more in your own time......

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- Tree book bargains-

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Also try here...... Best Tree Identification Books

Chart shows approximate distribution of the native tree within Ireland, each dot is a 10km square in which the species grows.

Video. See a gnarly and beautiful Yew tree up close. ___________ Wood turning with Yew (Taxus).

Video. Journey to the centre of a fine old yew tree in Lissan, Co. Tyrone.
Thanks to our member crannach for this.

Back to native Irish trees.

Yew Images courtesy
Chris Evans, University of Georgia, United States

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