Monday, 28 September 2009

Yew

A walk up to Shipley Hill this morning affording fine views towards the town. The Autumn colours are getting better by the day as you can see.
The Maples and Sycamores look almost as if they are on fire as the topmost leaves turn bright vermilion before tumbling to the ground.
Among the trees in the gardens of the old hall are some nice Yews (Taxus baccata). These elegant conifers are smothered in bright red 'berries'.
In fact, these 'berries' are not berries at all. They are actually modified cones - as found on other conifers. The mature cones of others are usually brittle, dry, brown in colour and contain many seeds. Yew cones by contrast, are fleshy, red and contain one seed. The fleshy, red part is, in fact a modified scale called an aril.
Yews are famous for being poisonous. Most people think the red 'berries' are poisonous but this is not strictly true. Only the seed inside is poisonous, the fleshy bit is not. Having said that, the Yew leaves are also poisonous.
Yews are also known to be extremely long-lived. Tree trunks of 12ft in diameter are not unknown and it would take 2000 years to reach this size. Accurate dating is difficult, if not impossible as the trunks tend to become hollow with age making tree-ring counting impossible. Reports of trees of between 5000 and 9500 years have been made, but even at 2000 years, the Yew remains the longest lived European tree. This longevity is the reason Yews are often planted in graveyards - to symbolise 'eternal life'.
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