Taxus, Yew, or Anglojap Yew
(Taxaceae - Yew Family)
- culturally a medium-sized evergreen shrub (older forms can grow into a very large shrub of 30' tall or more, but often sheared into a small- or medium-sized spreading shrub)
- maturing at roughly 5' tall by 10' wide (if left unpruned, as a general dimension for most modern compact cultivars that spread), but highly variable among the cultivars, and often sheared to fit the dimensions needed for a particular site or hedge
- upright spreading growth habit (although some are globed or upright columnar)
- slow growth rate (although a medium growth rate can be achieved with annual pruning that increases the root to shoot ratio)
- full sun to full shade
- performs best in full sun in moist to dry, but very well-drained soils of average fertility; highly adaptable to poor soils, compacted soils, very dry soils, heat, drought, shearing, pruning, and root pruning, but does not tolerate poorly drained soils that give it "wet feet", leading to root rot and the resultant decline or death
- propagated almost exclusively by rooted stem cuttings, although seeds are an alternative
- Yew Family, with black vine weevil being the primary cosmetic pest problem, creating a notch-shaped feeding pattern in the foliage; while other pests and diseases can occur, they rarely do, and the only major concern (as noted above) is proper placement in a well-drained or dry site
- abundantly available in ball and burlap form, but increasingly in container form
- unlike spreading or upright Arborvitae or Junipers (the other major alternatives for common evergreen shearable shrubs), Taxus can be moderately to severely cut back to the bare stems below the evergreen foliage, and it will often slowly recover and send out sparse new shoots, especially if the pruning is done in very early Spring; Arborvitae and Junipers, however, typically will not recover from this harse pruning (and sometimes Taxus will not recover either, and may even die)
- all yews are toxic when eaten by humans and animals, including the leaves, stems, bark, and seeds (but not the fleshy portion of the fruits); however, extensive handling does not transmit the toxin, which is called taxine
- taxine, a toxin that is poisonous when ingested, should not be confused with taxol, a beneficial cancer-treating drug, which can be chemically extracted and purified from the bark of Western Yew (Taxus brevifolia)
- evergreen needles emerge light green and transition to dark green, are dull shiny, about 1" long, flattened, and arranged in paired rows (pectinate arrangement) along each side of the stem
- foliage on the exterior portions of the shrub may Winter-burn (turn a shade of brown-chartreuse) in exposed sites of its northern range, but will recover its green color in early Spring
- foliage may also melt out in the southern part of its range
- some cultivars are noted for their foliage that is bright green, fine-textured, Winterburn-resistant, or golden
- dioecious (separate male and female plants), and ornamentally insignificant
- staminate flowers are tan-white, miniature, globose, solitary in the leaf axils from the previous season, and shed much pollen
- pistillate flowers are like miniature stalked cones, green, and solitary
- arils (the name for Taxus fruits) are often hidden among the foliage of female plants (if present at all, when tightly sheared) until they turn red in September, becoming noticeable as sessile fruits scattered along the stems, but usually not long persistent
- each aril has a unique squarish opening in the bottom of its red flesh, from which a brown seed can be seen
- first-year stems are green throughout the entire growing season and first Winter, slowly changing to tan-green in the second year, and brown-red in succeeding years
- bark on the curving, twisting, and never straight multi-trunks is reddish-brown (with subtle shades of crimson-purple), and often hidden by the dense evergreen foliage
- bark exfoliates in flakes when the trunks are exosed (large, mature forms of this hybrid and other Yew species may be limbed up to reveal the ornamental bark)
- flattened dark evergreen needles densely cover the numerous stems in a pectinate (two-ranked) arrangement on this generally spreading, slow-growing, but vigorous shrub, which is often sheared into a rectangular shape as a hedge, or pruned into an rounded shape when planted in groups or as a solitary evergreen specimen shrub
- subtle red fruits (with square holes in their ends) may hang from the stems of female plants in early Autumn, while male plants shed dense pollen from their miniature flowers in March and early April
- foundations, borders, property lines, entranceways, paths, informal or formal hedges, group or mass plantings, or specimens
- medium texture
- thick density
- attractive foliage (dark evergreen, dull shiny, with flattened needles)
- extreme tolerance to drought, poor soils, and repeated shearing/light pruning
- usually has recovery from severe pruning (to bare stems)
- many cultivars are available (although only about ten are truly needed, since most are sheared into one of three basic shapes anyway)
- does not tolerate permanently moist or wet sites at all
- often gets out-of-bounds or becomes too much of a shearing chore with maturity
- often Winterburns in its northern range (zone 4) and melts out in its southern range (zone 8)
- often overused due to its being narrowleaf evergreen, drought tolerant, poor soil adaptable, and very shearable (this is not a true plant liability, of course)
- zones 4 to 8
- parents of this hybrid are native to Japan (Taxus cuspidata - Japanese Yew, conferring cold-hardiness) and England (Taxus baccata - English Yew)
- evergreen shrubs, especially those that are shearable (Buxus hybrids, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, Ilex x meserveaea, Juniperus chinensis cultivars, Taxus baccata, Taxus cuspidata, Thuja occidentalis cultivars, etc.)
- Taxus x media - a plethora of cultivars exist, selected for compactness, growth rate, growth habit, stem and foliage density, foliage color in Summer or Winter, foliage texture, heat tolerance, or cold hardiness; some of the most common cultivars are listed below according to the three basic growth habits:
- spreaders from the start: 'Berryhillii', 'Chadwickii', 'Everlow', 'Sebian', 'Tauntonii', 'Wardii'
- rounded in youth and spreading with age: 'Brownii', 'Densiformis', 'Fairview', 'Kobelli', 'L.C. Bobbink', 'Natorp', 'Nigra', 'Runyanii'
- upright columnar: 'Citation', 'Hicksii', 'Stoveken', 'Viridis'
- in addition, the spreading cultivar 'Sunburst', while rare, has vibrant golden-yellow new growth in Spring that slowly fades to chartreuse-green by late Summer, with just a subtle hint of gold in the otherwise faded green Winter foliage on the first-year stems
- Taxus baccata 'Repandens' - a dwarf spreader, very slowly to 3' tall by 12' wide, with dark green needles that are sickle-shaped, with the ends of the branches being semi-pendulous, but not reliably hardy in the northern portion of zone 5 (use Taxus x media 'Everlow' instead); functionally a tall groundcover shrub
- Taxus cuspidata 'Capitata' - upright pyramidal, often to 20' tall by 5' wide (can be 40' tall by 10' wide under optimum conditions), gets leggy with age, but often limbed up anyway to reveal its purplish-red-brown exfoliating bark; tight pyramidal form in youth yields to a graceful 45-degree angled branching, and finally becomes spreading or rounded with age (unless it is sheared to maintain its youthful pyramidal shape); found at entranceways, large foundations, and as a specimen shrub
- Taxus is the Latin name for Yew.
- x media translates as "intermediate", referring to its hybrid origin (from a cross of English [or Common or Anglo] Yew [Taxus baccata] and Japanese Yew [Taxus cuspidata]).
- Taxus is the best evergreen hedge or shearable evergreen shrub for climates in zones 5 through 7, being tolerant of both poor soils and dry conditions.
- Taxus x media is known as a tough, drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with flat-needled shiny foliage, often spreading and used as a formal or informal hedge, especially at entranceways and foundations and very common in landscapes of the Midwestern United States.
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