Saturday, 22 November 2014

Yew will be interested in this!

Day 21

Hi all Day 21 today and I have to admit yew will be interested in today's topic! If yew haven't guessed already today's topic is Yew! I haven't done a tree post before so it will be a bit different to my normal posts and I hope you like it.

The word 'yew' is believed to have come from the ancient Proto-Germanic word Iwa and seems to refer to the colour brown. It is typically a small-medium sized evergreen tree 33-66 ft high with a 6ft diameter meaning it has an 18.84 ft circumference but in exceptional circumstances can grow much bigger. Its bark is thin and scaly brown the leaves are flat and dark green and arranged in a spiral pattern on the stem. The leaves are poisonous - it produces cones containing a single seed and develop a bright red berry-like structure called an Aril. The Aril aren't poisonous and are eaten by Thrushes, Waxwings etc. and dispersing the seeds.

Yew Trees can usually reach 400-600 years of age but many trees in Britain are well over 500 years old. They are listed on a wonderful website Ancient & Veteran Yews. There are even claims that some are 5000-9000 years old but this is difficult to prove as they are often hollow and you can't count their rings. The oldest Yew in Britain is either, the Fortingall Yew in Scotland, believed to be 2000-5000 years old or a Welsh contender believed to be over 5000 years old in St Cynog's churchyard at Defynnog. Here is a picture of the Fortingall Yew which I visited earlier this year.
Fortingall Yew (Taxus baccata)

The largest remaining part of the Fortingall Yew

The long life and size of yews led to them being revered long before the start of Christianity. It was a very important symbol to our Celtic ancestors. Churches were often built near ancient yews, but they were also planted in church yards so that farmers would keep cattle and sheep at out.

In medieval times when there were lots of wars, English longbows were made of Yew and so many were cut down at this time. There are not many Yew woodlands and many of those that survive are protected.

Pegs trace the remains of the 56ft circumference of the tree!
 It's been a tree linked with many superstitions

  • Romans believed it grew in hell
  • Vikings and Celts thought it gave protected from spells and death
  • Christians believed its poison protected the dead.

A spearhead 450,000 years old has been found made of yew!

Chemicals in the Yew have anti-cancer properties and they have been used to make medicines.

All in all a remarkable tree.

So you can read more about these wonderful trees, here's some links:

BBC Nature - Yew
Eden Project - Yew
Notice Nature - Yew
Ancient & Veteran Yews

Hope you enjoyed this.


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