Factsheet S15: Yew – Taxus baccata
The yew is native to Europe (from Scandinavia and W.Russia to Spain), Asia Minor and North Africa. It is a very long-lived tree, possibly up to 4000 years, and was sacred to the Druids, who built their temples nearby – a practise continued by Christians as displayed by the number of yew trees found in churchyards.
In Britain it is found mainly on chalk and limestone, often as an understorey in mixed deciduous woods but sometimes as pure stands. Little has been planted in woodlands – most arise from seeds spread by mistle thrushes and blackbirds. All through the middle ages until gunpowder came into general use, yew wood was more valued than any other for bow manufacture, and although Spanish-grown wood was considered best, yews throughout Europe were drastically reduced in numbers.