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Japanese yews are a popular and versatile evergreen shrub. They make a good foundation or accent plants and their dark green leaves are a good background for colorful shrubs and perennials. There are numerous cultivars available, varying greatly in size, so choose carefully to find the right one for your site. Be aware that the leaves, seeds, and bark of yews are poisonous.  

  • Family (English) Yew
  • Family (botanic) Taxaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Evergreen (foliage year-round)
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Medium shrub (5-8 feet), Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Occasional drought
  • Season of interest midwinter, late winter, early spring
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous, Yellow
  • Shape or form Broad, Irregular, Pyramidal, Upright
  • Growth rate Slow

Size and form:

Japanese yews can range from 40 feet high trees to 10 feet high shrubs. The habit depends on the cultivar. It can be erect, broadly narrow, or wide-spreading.

Native geographic location and habitat:

Native to Japan, Korea, and China.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

Cardinals, waxwings, thrushes, and many other birds are attracted to the plant’s fruit and use the plant as a nesting site and shelter.

Bark color and texture:

Older plants have reddish-brown bark which exfoliates in patches. The leaves, bark, and seeds of all yew are poisonous.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Needles are short-stalked, 1 inch long, glossy, and dark green. The needles of all yew are poisonous.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Dioecious, male flowers are tiny, globose strobli in axils of leaves. The green female strobili (cone-like) form in the leaf axils and are solitary.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fleshy red fruit (arils) resemble berries, ripen in August-November. CAUTION: The leaves, bark, and seeds of all yew are poisonous.

Plant care:

Yews will grow in full sun to dense shade, but do best with some shade to provide winter protection from strong winds. They prefer moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter and will not tolerate wet soil. Their shallow roots benefit from a layer of mulch to moderate soil temperatures and conserve moisture. Water well in fall before the ground freezes.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

More tolerant of windy sites than other yews, but drying winds and reflecting sun can cause desiccation and winter browning. Prone to root rots in wet soil conditions. Black vine weevil and scale insects can be a problem on stressed plants. Deer can be a problem.

Captain yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Fastigiata’):

This is a pyramidal shaped cultivar growing  8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 5 feet wide. It will grow larger and more open if left unpruned.

Upright yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’):

This is the only tree form of Japanese yew at  25 to 30 feet high. It has dark green leaves.


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