Woodland Trust suggests brightening up bleak
January with a colourful addition to your garden.
Taxus baccata, better known to us as the yew
tree, is one of our native evergreen conifers.
Although found in woods, it has a rather special
association with old churches and there’s
a good chance that you will find a yew in almost
any old churchyard in Ireland.
yew is striking in appearance. Its dark green
leaves are long and narrow and are complemented
by its scarlet berries and mahogany-coloured
bark. You can enjoy the beauty of the individual
tree. Alternatively, yew makes an excellent
formal, straight-edged hedge, providing a wonderfully
dense boundary. It’s also ideal for topiary.
caution is, however, called for. The yew’s
leaves and seeds are poisonous, so care must
be taken when planting to ensure that children
and livestock are not at risk.
The aril – or fleshy seed covering –
thankfully is not poisonous and birds can therefore
safely eat the fruit (with the seed passing
through intact). Indeed, birds will also make
good use of the tree for roosting or nesting
Photos above: WTPL/Peter Paice
Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘fastigiata’)
differs slightly in appearance from the common
yew (Taxus baccata) and has a most interesting
history. In the 1700s, two seedlings were found
growing on a hillside in County Fermanagh. They
were both dug up and one replanted at Florencecourt.
Today, and from this source, millions of Irish
yews have been grown. The Irish yew is more
upright and narrow, demanding less space than
the spreading common yew. Interestingly, most
are female and so bear fruit; the bright red
fruits standing out in wonderful contrast to
the dark foliage.
trees in general will tolerate most soil, with
the exception of waterlogged ground. A well-drained,
moist site with some protection from the wind
is ideal. In return, the tree will add a touch
of colour to your garden all year round. The
birds will be sure to thank you for this rather
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