American Yew

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Lawn & Garden

The American yew is a hardy shrub native to eastern and central North America that is often overlooked in ornamental horticulture. It has flat, dark green needles and reddish brown bark, and can grow up to 6 feet in height and 8 feet in width. Its winter color can be enhanced through careful selection. The American yew prefers cool conditions and winter shade, and can be easily pruned at any season. It is best used as an evergreen ground cover in shady areas. A related species, the Japanese yew, is commonly used in hedges, topiary, and foundation plantings. For more gardening information, try Landscape Shrubs, Types of Shrubs, or Gardening.


1. What is American yew?

American yew (Taxus canadensis) is a coniferous shrub that belongs to the yew family. It is native to North America and grows in cold, damp areas such as swamps, bogs, and moist coniferous forests. The plant has dark green needles, red berries, and a twisted and gnarled trunk.

2. What are the uses of American yew?

American yew has a long history of medicinal use by Native American tribes for its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Its bark, needles, and seeds contain chemicals called taxanes, which are used in cancer chemotherapy. The tree’s wood is also highly valued for its hardness and durability, and is used to make furniture, flooring, and bows.

3. Is American yew toxic?

Yes, American yew is highly toxic to humans and animals. All parts of the plant, except for the arils (fleshy part of the berry), contain a toxic alkaloid called taxine, which can cause cardiac arrest and death if ingested. Even small amounts of the plant can be lethal, so it is important to keep it away from children and pets.

4. How does American yew benefit the ecosystem?

American yew provides important habitat and food for a variety of wildlife species. Its dense, evergreen foliage provides shelter and nesting sites for birds, while its berries are an important food source for deer, moose, and small mammals. The plant’s roots also help prevent soil erosion in wetland areas.

5. Can American yew be grown as a garden plant?

Yes, American yew can be grown as a garden plant, but it is important to keep in mind its toxic properties. It is best to plant it in an area that is not accessible to children and pets. The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade, and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

6. How long does American yew live?

American yew is a slow-growing but long-lived plant, with a lifespan of up to 400 years. It is a shade-tolerant species and can survive in low light conditions for extended periods of time. The plant’s ability to live for centuries has made it a symbol of longevity and resilience in many cultures.

7. Is American yew endangered?

American yew is not currently considered endangered, but its populations are declining due to habitat loss and over-harvesting for medicinal use. The plant is also threatened by browsing from deer, which can prevent it from reproducing. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore American yew populations in its native range.

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