The yew can be found in western, southern and central Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. It does not occur in North or Eastern Europe.
The yew is the oldest native conifer and its seven species constitute their own family (Taxaceae). In Europe the European or common yew is most common. It can grow to a height of 20 metres. In addition several dozen different special decorative variants with different forms have been cultivated. The trees can grow to several hundred years old. All parts of the tree with the exception of the red, fleshy seed-covering of the fruits contain the poison Taxin, that can lead to life-endangering illness to both animals and humans.
In the Middle Ages, the yew was very widespread and many place names bear testimony to the trees existence. Its hard and elastic wood was highly valued for making longbows and crossbows.
The demand for yew wood has waned considerably and many trees were felled due to its poisonous nature. It attained popularity again as a decorative plant in gardens in the 18th Century but has never reached its original levels. Old yew trees are often protected as natural monuments. Larger areas can be found in nature reserves in Eichsfeld in Thuringia, Germany or near Weilheim in Upper Bavaria. Yew trees are most commonly found in parks and cemeteries.
The thin sapwood is yellowish-white, the heartwood reddish to red-brown. It darkens considerably.
Yew wood is heavy, very hard and firm, tough and elastic. It is not susceptible to shrinkage and has good stability. The wood is resistant to weather and not susceptible to fungal or insect infestation.
It can be peeled or sliced and with some limitations it can be carved and turned. Surface finishing is straightforward. It can be stained or painted.
Yew is available as round or sawn timber. As it is not very widespread it is only available in small quantities on the market, and at a high price.
- Turning and carving
- Musical instruments