Taxus brevifolia - pacific yew

Family: Taxacea
Wetland Indictor Status: FACU-

General Species Description

A unique evergreen tree with an angled trunk that is often twisted or irregular with a broad crown of slender, horizontal branches; sometimes shrubby in appearance, 2 - 15 meters in height. The bark is reddish, papery to shreddy. It readily peels off in scales rather than long strips. The foliage is similar to all flat-needled conifers with the exception that it connects to the twig by a twisted stalk. The tree produces male and female cones on separate trees with the female cone maturing into a single bony seed almost completely surrounded by a bright red fleshy cup that looks like a large red huckleberry with a hole in the end. The berry is poisonous to humans.


The needles are flat, 2 - 3 cm long, dull green above, striped with stomata below, spreading in two rows in flat sprays, connected to the twig by a twisted stalk.


Male and female cones are produced on separate trees. Male cones are less distinct.


Instead of a seed cone the female tree produces a red fleshy berry that surrounds a naked seed. The berries are attached on the lower side of the branches.


Pacific yews are found at low to middle elevations in moist soils of stream banks and canyons as understory of coniferous forests that are primary composed of Red cedar, Western hemlock and Douglas firs.


Extreme SE Alaska through British Columbia, western Washington and Oregon reaching northern California. It occurs in all counties in Northwestern Oregon.

Similar Species

the Pacific yew might be confused with the Western hemlock due to the similar flat-needle arrangement. However, the Pacific yew is the only conifer to have red berries and flaky, purplish red bark.

Ecological Value

The red berries provide serve as a food source for many birds. In addition, the pacific yew snag provides a great cavity for a variety of nesting birds.

Human Value

The wood has been used in cabinetry work, archery bows, poles, and canoe paddles. The bark has been used in the production of taxol, a promising anti-cancer drug being used to fight ovarian, breast, and kidney cancer.


Cooke, S. S. 1997. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwestern Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle WA, 11 p. Guard, B. J. 1995. Wetland Plants of Oregon and Washington. Lone Star Publishing, Richmond WA, 194 p. Kozloff, Eugene N. 1995. Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 18 -19 p. Little, Elbert L. 1997. National Audubon Society Field guide to Northwest American Trees: Western Region. Alfred A, Knopf, New York NY, 245 p. Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon,British Columbia, and Alaska . Lone Star Publishing,Richmond WA 40 p.

This page was created by: S. J. Carey, August 1998

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