A tree I really enjoy journeying with is the Yew tree, Taxus baccata. Typically associated with the Samhain season, I find myself really connecting with this tree in Spring too.
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, thought of as the ‘tree of immortality’ due to their long lives and amazing ability to regenerate. 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 and burial mounds.
Yew trees are able to grow in the harshest, most barren and polluted lands and have survived many changes in the climate throughout their history. 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. 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.
Yew trees are ancient and enchanting trees that can teach us much about perspective, grounding, survival and adaptability. In times of great uncertainty, the Yew’s message feels strong and necessary and I have found great strength resting beneath their branches.
Yew is also one of our favourite woods to craft our Wild Jewellery from. The colours and patterns that emerge in the wood are like no other, some examples can be seen below.
I would love to mention Glennie Kindred’s wonderful book ‘Walking with Trees’ as my most treasured companion in getting to know our native trees with real depth. Her wisdom and insights have inspired and informed us and these posts too.