Can a Yew Tree Live in the U.S.?


Not only do species of yew (Taxus spp.) native to Europe and Asia grow in the U.S. as landscaping plants, but there are yews native to North America that grow in Northwest, the Northeast and Florida. About 24 species and 55 varieties of yew exist worldwide, but the separation of species remains a problem due to the close structural similarities of the plants. Some experts believe there are only seven to 11 species worldwide. Yews are all poisonous if eaten.

General Description of Yew

  • Yews are either shrubs or trees with reddish-brown, scaly bark. They are evergreen, with dark-green, flattened needles which often appear two ranked. The new growth is light green. Yews can be either male or female plants or both sexes may appear on the same plant, depending on the species. Although the yews are classified with the conifers, or cone-bearing plants, the female plants don't produce cones, but rather fleshy, red, one-seeded berries.

Yew Hardiness Zones

  • In keeping with their temperate Northern Hemisphere distribution, many yews are fairly cold-hardy, with the ones growing in the United States generally hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7, depending on the species. Exceptions are English yew (Taxus baccata), hardy to USDA zones 6 to 7 and Florida yew (Taxus floridana), hardy to USDA zone 8. Most yews grow as forest understory plants and are at home in shady conditions.

North American Native Yews

  • According to "Toxic Plants of North America," three yew species inhabit the U.S. Western or Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) grows from California into Canada, Canadian or American yew (Taxus canadiensis) occurs in the Northeast, and Taxus floridana in Florida. Western yew grows to 25 feet tall and is usually a forest understory plant hardy to USDA zones 4 through 9. Canadian yew is a smaller, rather straggly shrub growing 3 to 6 feet tall in USDA zones 2 through 6. Florida yew, growing in USDA zone 8, is a small tree listed as an endangered species, growing along the east side of the Apalachicola River.

Garden Yews Grown in the U.S.

  • English yew is a long-lived, slow-growing tree that reaches 30 to 60 feet tall. It is one of the best evergreen conifers for shade and it tolerates pruning well. Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) grows from 10 to 25 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7. The cultivar "Capitata" has a more pyramidal form than the species. Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis) thrives in USDA zones 5b through 7, growing 10 to 15 feet tall and as wide. It has rapid growth and an upright pyramidal form. There are numerous cultivars that are hybrids between English yew and Japanese yew (Taxus x media), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7. They combine the ornamental qualities of English yew with the cold-hardiness of Japanese yew, and range in height from 2 to 20 feet, depending on the cultivar.

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