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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Y ~ Yew , Taxus brevifolia

The Western Yew, Taxus brevifolia, is a scarce tree in our local ecology.  When timber harvesting was widespread, the yew was seen as a junk shrub/ tree and simply of little value and in the way.  The Yew were pulled down to allow easier access to the preferred timber trees.

Native peoples made very wide use of the shrubs.  The wood was very hard and durable and was perfect for carving.  It would smooth and polish up well and could be made into any useful item imagined, even fire tongs.  The berries were eaten in small quantity and the needles were used for smoking.

In recent years the investigation of the alkaloids in Taxus species led to the discovery of the anti-cancer drug Taxol.  The Taxus species of Europe contain higher concentrations of the alkaloid taxine.  There was a bit of excitement during the time after discovery and before large scale chemical ( artificial) synthesis. Some people planted Pacific Yew as a potential crop for the pharmaceutical industry.  Pacific Yew contains low levels of taxine, so I am not sure there would have been much of a return for investment.  It is still possible to find web pages encouraging the plantation of Yew and the potential for good income.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting commentary, Marti. When I think of Yews, though, I think of the old, old Yews that are often planted in churchyards and graveyards in Europe and not of our native shrub.