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.