The yew is native and may be found in old woods although it is often seen in the artificial surroundings of estates or churchyards.
An evergreen conifer (although an unusual one), yew is a dramatic tree with its dark foliage and red berries encasing a single seed. Reenadina wood on the Muckross Peninsula, Co. Kerry is Ireland’s only native yew wood.
A sport (unique form) of the Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘fastigata’) with very upright growth was originally found growing on rocky limestone hills in Co. Fermanagh. This was cultivated at Florencecourt, and subsequently in many gardens and churchyards.
Many yews are single sex, but most Irish yews are female and so bear fruit. Even if the flesh is removed, these may be slow to germinate.
The best seeds are those that have been eaten by birds and have passed through them; such bare seeds may be collected from under yew trees.
There are ornamental garden varieties, some with yellow fruit or even golden foliage – these have to be propagated by cuttings. Yew trees do not need rich soil but they do need a well drained site, preferably not too exposed to wind or frost.
The leaves are poisonous to most livestock, and the seeds are also toxic, so care must be taken in planting it where animals and children are not at risk. The fruit can be eaten safely by birds, and yew is in fact a good tree for wildlife as birds roost and nest in it.