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16 October 2014
Gardener's Corner

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Autumn 2003
Terrific Trees

Taxus baccata (Yew Tree)

Yew TreeThe 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.

The 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.

Yew BerriesSome 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 in.
Photos above: WTPL/Peter Paice from Belfast

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.

Yew Hedge by Rosanna BallentineYew 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 special addition.

Photo: WTPL/Rosanna Ballentine

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