Japanese Yew

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Lawn & Garden

The Japanese yew is a type of shade-tolerant conifer that produces bright berries. Unlike most conifers, yews can thrive in areas with less sunlight. Their dark green needles add a touch of color to shady gardens throughout fall and early spring.

The original Japanese yew is a tree with a single trunk that can grow up to 50 feet tall. However, most cultivars are dwarf varieties that can be globular, vase-shaped, pyramidal, or spreading, depending on the selection. Despite being labeled as dwarf plants, most eventually grow up to 20 feet or more. The needles of Japanese yews are dark green and have rounded tips, and unlike other conifers, they are not scratchy. Female plants bear bright red berries. Japanese yews are easy to care for.

Japanese yews are tolerant of moderate shade, and even deep shade, as long as they receive some spring sunlight. In dense shade, shrubs may need harsher pruning to help fill in gaps formed by a more open growth pattern. Yews require fertile soil and ample moisture and cannot tolerate root competition from shallow-rooted trees. They should also be protected from strong, drying winds.

Japanese yews are propagated by cuttings, usually carried out by professionals, or seed. They are widely used as foundation plants, especially on the north or east sides of homes. They make excellent formal or natural hedges, and dwarf varieties are popularly used in rock gardens.

Taxus baccata (English yew) and T. x media (hybrid yew) are related species to the Japanese yew, although the English yew is less hardy (USDA zone 6). The scientific name of Japanese yew is Taxus cuspidata.

If you don’t have an outdoor garden but love the Japanese yew’s berries, consider growing it as a houseplant. Learn more about gardening and great plants you can grow, such as shade gardens, shade garden plants, garden types, and gardening.


1. What is Japanese Yew?

Japanese Yew, also known as Taxus cuspidata, is an evergreen shrub or tree that belongs to the Taxaceae family. It is native to Japan, Korea, northeast China, and the Far East of Russia. The plant has a narrow, conical shape and can grow up to 20 meters tall. It has dark green, needle-like leaves and small, round, red berries.

2. How do you care for Japanese Yew?

Japanese Yew requires well-drained soil and partial shade to full sun exposure. It is a slow-growing plant and requires minimal pruning. However, if necessary, prune in late winter or early spring. Japanese Yew is also drought tolerant, but it is important to keep the soil moist during the first year after planting.

3. Is Japanese Yew poisonous?

Yes, all parts of the Japanese Yew plant are highly toxic, especially the seeds and leaves. Ingesting even a small amount of the plant can be fatal to humans and animals. It is important to keep the plant away from children and pets.

4. What are the medicinal uses of Japanese Yew?

Japanese Yew contains a compound called taxol, which is used in chemotherapy to treat various types of cancer, including ovarian, breast, and lung cancer. Taxol works by inhibiting cell division, which prevents cancer cells from growing and spreading. However, it is important to note that taxol can also cause side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue.

5. How long does Japanese Yew live?

Japanese Yew is a long-lived plant and can live up to 600 years. However, its growth rate is slow, and it takes many years for it to reach maturity. The plant is also susceptible to root rot and other diseases, which can shorten its lifespan.

6. Can Japanese Yew be used for landscaping?

Yes, Japanese Yew is a popular choice for landscaping due to its attractive, dark green foliage and conical shape. It can be used as a hedge, screen, or specimen plant and is suitable for both formal and informal gardens. However, due to its toxicity, it is important to plant Japanese Yew in a location that is inaccessible to children and pets.

7. How is Japanese Yew propagated?

Japanese Yew can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Seeds can be collected in the fall and planted in a well-drained soil mix. However, seed propagation can be slow and unpredictable. Cuttings, on the other hand, are more reliable and can be taken in late summer or early fall. Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone and plant in a well-drained soil mix. Keep the soil moist and the cutting in a shaded area until roots develop.

8. What are some common pests and diseases that affect Japanese Yew?

Japanese Yew is susceptible to various pests and diseases, including spider mites, scale insects, and root rot. Spider mites and scale insects can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Root rot can be prevented by planting in a well-drained soil mix and avoiding overwatering. Other diseases that can affect Japanese Yew include cankers, needle blight, and yellowing of foliage.

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