Pacific Yew

Pacific Yew, FOC File Photo

(Taxus Brevifolia)

Physical Characteristics: Evergreen shrub to small tree 3 to 15-meters high with a diameter up to 30-centimeters. Has papery reddish bark with droopy branches and a twisted or fluted trunk. It has flat needles 2 to 3-centimeters long. Leaves are green on top and striped with a stomata below, ending abruptly in fine point, arranged in 2 rows in flat sprays. Both male and female cones are inconspicuous, and found on separate trees. It has a single bony seed almost completely surrounded by a bright red, fleshy cup that looks like a large red huckleberry with a hole in the end (poisonous to humans).

Habitat: Grows in various environments and is sun and shade tolerant. It is mostly limited to stream side habitats in drier environments. It will grow on slopes and ridgetops in wetter environments. Shade tolerance allows it to form an understory and provide shade, which maintains cooler water temperatures.

Range: Found from southernmost Alaska south to central California, mostly occurring in the Pacific Coast Ranges. Also found throughout the Clearwater Basin and in southeast British Columbia. Pacific Yew is considered a coastal disjunct species.

Reproduction: The Pacific Yew is dioecious, meaning that the male and female trees are separate. Therefore, seeds are forced to travel in order to germinate. The seeds are produced on the female tree and the pollen is produced on the male tree. Birds are the main dispersers of seeds.The pollen is mainly dispersed by wind. There is some evidence that seeds can remain dormant for years in the soil and grow when conditions are favorable.

Threats: Pacific yew has been heavily exploited for its bark, but recent efforts have reduced exploitation. Logging and wildland fire have also played a role in its reduction, and are an ongoing threat.

Miscellaneous: The tree has been seen by some as an impediment to the logging of larger trees species and unfortunately has been cleared from some areas. An organic compound named Taxol has been recently discovered in Pacific Yews. The compound has been shown to help treatment of breast and ovarian cancers.

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