Types of yew shrubs

Written by catherine duffy
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Types of yew shrubs
Seeds and branches are poisonous, but the yew berry's red flesh is not. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Yew shrubs, with their flat dark green needles and red berries grace landscapes from Alaska to Virginia Their varying shapes make them useful landscape plants. Low-lying shrubs serve as ground covers while uprights provide shade and privacy screening. Globe shaped varieties serve ornamental and decorative purposes. Three yew species used primarily for landscapes are Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata), English yew (T. baccata) and hybrids between the two (T. --- media). Less cultivated yews, like the Canada yew (T. canadensis) and Pacific yew (T. brevifoliaare) are indigenous to North America.

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English Yew

English yew are not as cold hardy as Japanese yew but Taxus baccata "Repandens" can withstand USDA hardiness zone 5. Repandens, an English yew cultivar, exhibits a spreading habit and reaches heights of 4 feet. Fastigiata is a narrow growing erect cultivar. Some low-lying English yews such as Watnong Gold differ not only in growing habit but foliage colour as well. This ground-cover produces yellow foliage.

Japanese Yew

Japanese yew are capable of withstanding colder temperatures than English yew cultivars. The T. cuspidata "Emerald Spreader" cultivar is a thick, dark green ground cover capable of withstanding 40 degree below zero temperatures. Green Wave, another cultivar, is named for its dark green colour and arching branches. With a mounding growth habit Green Wave reaches heights of 4 feet and widths of 8 feet. Tall, upright Japanese yew cultivars include the cone-shaped 50 foot tall Capitata.


Japanese and English yew hybrids exhibit the best traits of both species - hardiness combined with ornamental qualities. T. xmedia v. Tauntonii withstands zone 4 climates and provides landscape with wide, spreading dark green shrubbery. Brownii is a globe shaped cultivar and Hatfieldii is a dense, cone shaped bush suited for privacy screens.

Other Species

Pacific yew grow along the length of North America's west coast - from California's southernmost coastline to northern Alaska. Their evergreen habit and narrow leaves make them adapted to both cold and warm climates. They are a slow-growing upright tree not usually found in residential landscapes.

Canadian yew is an eastern North American yew species found growing from northern Canada into Tennessee and Virginia and as far west as Illinois. Canadian yew is a multi-stemmed slow growing shrub suited for residential landscapes.


Yew shrubs are sited in areas noted for their shade. Avoid planting yews in full sun.

Yews require partial shade and well draining soils. Avoid planting yews in heavy, clay-based soils.

Yew bark is sensitive. Small nicks and girdling damage effect the entire shrub. Avoid dead and damaged branches by removing wire tags immediately after purchase.

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