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Taxus baccata: English Yew1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson 2


English yew is most easily recognized in its trimmed form as dense hedges and screens, or shaped into topiary, but this dark green evergreen makes an outstanding specimen. If left to grow naturally, it reaches 20 to 25 feet in height with a spread of 15 to 20 feet in most situations. Plants grow slowly and have been known to reach heights of 50 feet. The shiny, very dark green leaves are 0.5 to 1.5 inches long. The attractive, reddish-brown trunk is often fluted and can become quite massive. The inconspicuous flowers appear in spring and are followed by the production of small, showy, red, fleshy fruits which contain one of the most poisonous seeds known, capable of poisoning both man and livestock. Taxine, the toxic chemical, is found in the leaves, bark, and hard part of the seed.

Figure 1. Middle-aged Taxus baccata: English yew
Figure 1.  Middle-aged Taxus baccata: English yew

General Information

Scientific name: Taxus baccata
Pronunciation: TACK-sus back-AY-tuh
Common name(s): English yew
Family: Taxaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 5B through 7B (Fig. 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
Uses: trained as a standard; hedge; screen; bonsai; deck or patio; specimen; Christmas tree
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range


Height: 20 to 25 feet
Spread: 15 to 20 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: slow
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: linear
Leaf venation: parallel, none, or difficult to see
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, needled evergreen
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage


Flower color: green, yellow
Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: red
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches don't droop; very showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; slightly alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate


Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: tolerant
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: sensitive to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Yew is used in the tree form primarily to create a screen, to develop into a topiary or to plant as a large clipped specimen on a large estate or other large landscape. The dense crown makes it especially suited for a screen provided plants are located in full-day sun and they are given plenty of room to spread. If lateral space is limited, select one of the narrow, upright cultivars.

English Yew should be grown in full sun on well-drained, moist soil, acid, or alkaline.

Propagation is by seeds (with difficulty), cuttings, or grafting.


Taxus mealybug, black vine weevil, taxus scale, and yew-gall midge can cause some damage.


No diseases are of major concern.


1. This document is ENH-782, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENH-782

Release Date:April 21, 2015

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