Yew Tree

Poisonous Poisonous Autumn Autumn Summer Summer

Apart from the flesh on the berries the rest of the Yew contains taxines which are very toxic. This also applies to any mushrooms growing on or under the tree as there is the possibility they may take in the taxines.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Yew Tree, English Yew
Scientific Name Taxus baccata
Season Start Sep
Season End Nov
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Flat dark green needles growing opposite each other spiralling down a thin stem.

Male Flowers

They are not true flowers but clusters of stamen. The male ‘flowers’ appear in February/March and start as Brussels sprout like growths that turn into pale yellow sacs of small spheres before opening to drop its anthers and release lots of pollen.

Female Flowers

The female ‘flower’ is a single ovule covered in scale like bracts that when pollinated will develop over the Summer into a seed surrounded in bright red flesh.


Only growing on female trees, they are arils rather than berries and the edible red flesh surrounds the poisonous seed.


Yews always have gnarled, twisted red/brown trunks.


Red to brown and flaking.


Hedgerows, woodland, churchyards, parks and shady field edges and can also be grown and used as hedging.

Possible Confusion

With its needles it can look a bit like a pine (pictured) but the twisted, red/brown trunk and short spreading foliage should help with identification. Also there are usually two or more needles joined together on pines.
More similar are the needles of Fir and Douglas Fir, however these have a strong pleasant citrusy aroma when crushed, and they have true conifer cones.


The flesh on the berries is very sweet and a bit like a lychee.




The only edible part of a Yew is the aril or ‘berry’ flesh, the small stone in the middle is toxic and must not be chewed or swallowed. The flesh comes away from the seed easily and is best done in the mouth as long as you remember to spit out the seed!

Medicinal Uses

Taxines are used in various forms as chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of some cancers.

Other Facts

The Yew is one of the oldest living plants in Europe with reports of trees up to 9000 years old but is impossible to date them exactly and it is thought some of the older trees are about 2000 years old, still quite impressive.
The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland, has the largest recorded trunk girth in Britain and experts estimate it to be anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 years old.
Yews are thought to be the tree of the dead and can often be found in churchyards and cemeteries, it is not known if they were planted by Christians or pre-date Christianity and are more connected with the early Britons.
Yews are the best wood for making long bows and have been used as such for centuries.


17 comments for Yew Tree

  1. Shirley says:

    On countryfile they said that yew trees are poisonous.
    I do decoupage and was wondering if it’s safe to sand, then decoupage these trees.
    I’ve got off cuts of yew that are about an inch thick. My hubby doesn’t want me to use these off cut yew trees because they are toxic.
    Can you advise please?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The dust created by sanding or cutting yew wood will be toxic so should only be done outdoors with the correct protective clothing and mask.

  2. Mark Colson says:

    I’d like to plant some Yew trees in my garden for hedging purposes as I really like the Red Berries they produce in winter But how do I tell which trees will grow the Red Berries as I believe only the female trees have them? …Do I need to get a male tree as well..
    Can you advise please?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I’m afraid you would have to speak to a tree supplier as I’m not sure how to tell male from female before flowering. Females will flower without a male nearby.

  3. Penny says:

    I’ve eaten 77mg of yew tree leaves. Is this dangerous

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The reported lethal dose for Yew needles is 50 grams so I suspect 77mg won’t cause any issues. If however you feel unwell or have heart palpitations, go to A+E.

  4. Sally Carr says:

    Hi there
    My large yew tree is making crackly sounds in the hot sun. Is this the little flowers opening?

  5. Elaine says:

    We have a female yew tree in our garden it must be at least 10 metres tall we have recently had new neighbours and they are asking us to reduce the size as they aren’t getting enough sun light We love the tree and appreciate how long it has taken to grow watching it for 36 years being about 3 meters when we moved here will it harm it if we do as they ask

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      It shouldn’t harm the tree too much but any pruning can cause stress to a plant. If you decide to cut some of it, use an experienced tree surgeon as they will know best how to limit damage and charge your neighbours for their fees. I’m not sure how much it is effecting the neighbours but I love Yew trees and would be upset to trim it after watching it grow for that long.

  6. Mark says:

    I have found ‘The prince’ mushroom growing approximately 5-10 metres away from a yew tree with sycamore and cypress closer to it. Am in a quandary if it would be safe to pick? how far is enough?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The mushroom should be fine for consumption. There is some concern about mushrooms growing on yew but not nearby.

  7. Justin Anderson says:

    We have recently had our yew tree cut down and there are quite a few needles and berries on the ground. How long will these remain poisonous to our dog before we let him back in the garden?

    1. Marlow Renton says:

      They can remain poisonous for some time but if you rake up what you can the dog should leave any remains unless you had to keep the dog away from the tree before it was cut down. Maybe cover with old carpet for a while or turf the area if you are concerned.

  8. Beverly says:

    If the yew tree is so poisonous but the fruit is edible, I find this hard to take in because the fruit is nourished from the substances that comes from the tree. I learnt that any fruits that can be eaten the leaves can also be used internally. What is happening here?

    1. Marlow Renton says:

      The Yew tree would be harming itself and future offspring if the fruit it uses to attract animals to help spread the seeds was toxic.

  9. Jane Barlow says:

    Hi. Is it possible to have clipped yew and still get berries? With ivy i prune really hard early in the year after the berries have been eaten by the birds and then it produces flowers and berries over the next season. If I prune yew the same way. Early in the year is that one seasons growth going to produce flowers and berries or are they on older growth?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know the answer but somebody out there hopefully does.

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