The second tree that I have been journeying with recently is the Yew tree, Taxus baccata. Typically associated with the Samhain season, I have found myself really connecting and learning about this tree this Spring season with my wonderful book ‘Walking with trees’ by Glennie Kindred as my companion.
Like Willows, Yews are dioecious meaning that trees are either male or female. In the Spring the male trees produce an array of flowers covered with golden pollen. This pollen is carried by the wind to the smaller flowers of the female trees that will go on to produce the red berries in the Autumn.
Yew trees were deeply revered by our ancestors as the ‘tree of immortality’ due to their longevity and ability to regenerate. After the last ice age, around 80% of Europe’s forests were comprised of Yew. Fossil records provide evidence of Yew trees growing around 250 million years ago. With human evolution stretching back just 6 million years ago, there is no doubt humans evolved and lived around these fascinating trees from the very beginning. Known to live for thousands of years, a Yew tree only becomes classed as ‘ancient’ at around 900 years, compared with 400 years for an oak tree. Many of our ancient Yews have been lost in Britain. However those that remain often guard sacred sites, burial mounds and some were probably planted as markers for navigating by.
Yew trees are able to grow in the harshest, most barren and polluted lands and have survived many changes in the climate. They have some fascinating survival strategies including being able to slow down their growth and remain dormant for longer than a human lifespan. They are known to become hollow, to increase their strength, and the foliage that drops down inside the trunk provides a rich compost from which an aerial root can regenerate and grow a new tree inside the old one.
All parts of the Yew tree are poisonous (bark, leaf, sap and seed) other than the red flesh of the fruit that is wrapped around a poisonous seed. This is probably what earned the tree it’s more recent name of the ‘tree of death.’ Whilst it is important to be aware and respect their poisonous qualities, their ability for regeneration and survival under almost all conditions means for me, it is a tree to be celebrated too in this Spring season of rebirth.
Yews are a tree I cannot wait to spend more time exploring this year. Whilst I will not be using any parts of the physical tree for incense or medicine, I will certainly work with its energy and qualities in my own life when I feel in need of some perspective, inner strength and ingenuity.