Characteristics Of The Irish Yew
The Irish Yew is an evergreen tree having very dark green needles, bearing red fruit, and is somewhat striking in appearance due to its columnar growth pattern. It is also one of the longest living of all trees, and several existing yew trees are considered by some to be the oldest plant life in Europe.
The Irish Yew Taxus baccata Fastigiata, is a cultivar of the common European Yew, Taxus baccata, and is more often used for hedging purposes rather than as a specimen tree. When planted alone however it will usually attain a height of around 8 to 10 feet with a three foot spread. Left unattended it may approach double the height and spread, but this is a very slow growing tree so is not one that is apt to get out of hand.
Because of its rather stately nature, the Irish yew is often found in as an integral part of cemetery landscaping, in formal gardens, and also is to be found on a number of college and university campuses where it has traditionally been planted near the entrances of the older buildings. The fact that it takes well to shearing makes it attractive for use as hedges, but all too often excessive pruning is done on single trees making them less rather than more attractive.
A Toxic Tree - The bright red berries of the Irish Yew, each of which contains a single seed, are said to be poisonous but this is not quite true. The flesh of the berry is not poisonous and is in fact considered by many to be rather sweet tasting. The flesh of the berry is however the only part of the tree that is not poisonous. The foliage and bark are poisonous and the seed contained within the berry is very poisonous.
Humans could suffer ill effects, though not necessary lethal ones, from eating a few of the berries, but still it is best to instruct young children not to eat the berries, which admittedly look very appetizing. There are several varieties of birds which somehow manage to eat the berries without suffering ill effects, probably because they pass the seeds before digesting them.
Humans are not likely to eat the foliage of the Irish Yew, but livestock will, often with a devastating effect. Horses especially are very sensitive to the poison in the leaves and bark, and although they are large animals, a few mouthfuls of yew can be fatal. Cattle and pigs are somewhat less sensitive but still could be killed by eating too much from the tree.
The Irish Yew And The Longbow - Students of military history likely know something about the longbow and how it changed the art of warfare in the Middle Ages. Longbows were traditionally crafted from the wood of the yew tree, it being very flexible and the strongest and lightest wood for that purpose. Unfortunately, for the yew tree, yew wood tends to be quite knotty, and one had to go though a great quantity of wood, to find a section suitable for making a longbow. The manufacturer of longbows from Irish Yews would not fare well in a “Save A Tree” campaign.
Very Old And Very Large - A 1,000 year-old Irish Yew may have a trunk size of up to 12 feet in diameter, and a 2,000 year-old specimen may attain a trunk size of 15 feet in diameter, large enough for several people to gather in if the trunk were to be split or hollowed out. The exact age of the older yew trees is nearly impossible to accurately measure, so the age is most often based on estimates. Still, there is no doubt that these tress can grow to be very, very old and very wide in the trunk.