Plants, flowers and fungi of Great Britain at a glance
Latin name: Taxus baccata Common name: Yew
How to spot it and where to find it: The yew is different from other conifers in that it doesn’t produce seeds in a cone. Instead, each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy structure known as an aril, which is open at the tip. Yew’s straight needle-like leaves grow in two rows along the twig and each has a raised central vein on the underside. Male flowers are small and whitish-yellow; female flowers are bud-like and scaly, resembling acorns as they age. Both appear in March or April.
Interesting facts: In 1800, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-strelitz, wife of King George III, is said to have installed the first decorated yew at Windsor Castle, a tradition she brought from her native Germany and that continues to this day, though firs are more popular. The yew was held sacred by the Druids and came to symbolise death and resurrection in Celtic culture. It is symbolic in Christianity, too, with boughs of yew representing palms in church at Easter. Yew trees are often found near churches and some 500 of them in this country are thought to predate the building itself. The wood, too, is incredibly strong and durable. One of the world’s oldest surviving wooden artifacts is a yew spearhead, found in 1911 at Clactonon-sea in Essex. It is estimated to be about 450,000 years old. Taxus baccata,