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Yew: Taxus baccata is a conifer native to western, central and southern Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran and southwest Asia. It is the tree originally known as yew, though with other related trees becoming known, it may now be known as English yew, or European yew.
Taxonomy and naming
The word yew is from Proto-Germanic *īwa-, possibly originally a loanword from Gaulish *ivos, compare Irish ēo, Welsh ywen, French if (see Eihwaz for a discussion). Baccata is Latin for bearing red berries. The word yew as it was originally used seems to refer to the color brown. The yew (μίλος) was known to Theophrastus, who noted its preference for mountain coolness and shade, its evergreen character and its slow growth.
Most Romance languages, with the notable exception of French, kept a version of the Latin word taxus (Italian tasso, Corsican tassu, Occitan teis, Catalan teix, Gasconic tech, Spanish tejo, Portuguese teixo, Galician teixo and Romanian tisă) from the same root as toxic. In Slavic languages, the same root is preserved: Russian tis (тис), Slovakian tis, Slovenian tisa, Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian tisa/тиса. Albanian borrowed it as tis.
In German it is known as Eibe.
In Iran, the tree is known as sorkhdār (Persian: سرخدار, literally “the red tree”).
The common yew was one of the many species first described by Linnaeus. It is one of around 30 other conifer species in seven genera in the family Taxaceae, which is placed in the order Pinales.
It is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, growing 10–20 metres (33–66 ft) (exceptionally up to 28 metres (92 ft)) tall, with a trunk up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) (exceptionally 4 metres (13 ft)) diameter. The bark is thin, scaly brown, coming off in small flakes aligned with the stem. The leaves are flat, dark green, 1–4 centimetres (0.39–1.57 in) long and 2–3 millimetres (0.079–0.118 in) broad, arranged spirally on the stem, but with the leaf bases twisted to align the leaves in two flat rows either side of the stem, except on erect leading shoots where the spiral arrangement is more obvious. The leaves are poisonous.
The seed cones are modified, each cone containing a single seed, which is 4–7 millimetres (0.16–0.28 in) long, and partly surrounded by a fleshy scale which develops into a soft, bright red berry-like structure called an aril. The aril is 8–15 millimetres (0.31–0.59 in) long and wide and open at the end. The arils mature 6 to 9 months after pollination, and with the seed contained, are eaten by thrushes, waxwings and other birds, which disperse the hard seeds undamaged in their droppings. Maturation of the arils is spread over 2 to 3 months, increasing the chances of successful seed dispersal. The seeds themselves are poisonous and bitter, but are opened and eaten by some bird species including hawfinches, greenfinches and great tits. The aril is not poisonous, it is gelatinous and very sweet tasting. The male cones are globose, 3–6 millimetres (0.12–0.24 in) diameter, and shed their pollen in early spring. The yew is mostly dioecious, but occasional individuals can be variably monoecious, or change sex with time
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