Pacific Yew

Barb Winter 2013 118

In the  great woods of the Pacific Northwest dozens of beautiful and fascinating trees thrive.  Record-setting Douglas fir, robust Sitka spruce,  and towering Western Hemlock, are among our iconic sylvan species. But somehow, a sense of excitement only overcomes over me when I find myself in the presence of this lovely tree – Taxus brevifolia or Pacific yew.  It’s like seeing a double rainbow or finding a silver dollar on the street. These things occur, but you feel a certain sense of grace at the moment of discovery.

To find one, keep watch for a bent branch and hard lean to the trunk, but especially this telltale red bark. Stunning isn’t it?  Every yew I’ve ever seen has been in a moist area, and typically riparian zones, as that is their preferred habitat.  I can remember each river or wetland where I noticed a yew. The Mackenzie River, Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge,  and Ruckle Provincial Park, are just a few of the wonderful places turned even more magical by the presence of Pacific yew.

Although a somewhat diminutive tree, rarely large in girth or height (30-50′ for the older ones)  they have played a huge role in fighting cancer. Yes, dear readers, the chemotherapy drug taxol is derived from the bark of this wondrous tree.  I see the bark and I must touch it, place my palm on the mottled bark, breathe a deep breath, and listen for a moment. I know this tree knows much more than it can tell me, but I still try to listen to all it says. Shhh, I think it’s saying something.

Barb Winter 2013 120


3 thoughts on “Pacific Yew

  1. The colours in the trunk are so beautiful. We have some snowgums (Eucalyptus species) that are pink and green too, but not the intense shades that are on this specimen!
    I can understand your awe – nature is so amazing.

    • Did you know that a couple of Eucalyptus species were introduced to California in the early 1900s and have naturalized to the point that they are, by some, considered an iconic part of the landscape. As a kid, my bus stop was under a row of them and I loved them – the bark, the flowers, the nuts. If I ever get to Australia I think I’d be happily overwhelmed by the varieties but would now have to make a point of searching out the snowgum.

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