The yew is native and may be found in old woods although it is often seen in the artificial surroundings of estates or church yards. An evergreen conifer (although an unusual one), yew is a dramatic tree with its dark foliage and red berries encasing a single seed.
A sport (unique form) of the Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘fastigata’ with very upright growth was originally found growing on rocky limestone hills in Fermanagh. This was cultivated at Florencecourt and subsequently in many gardens and church yards.
Many yews are single sex, but most Irish yews are female and so bear fruit. Even if the flesh is removed, these may be slow to germinate. The best seeds are those which have passed through birds which have eaten them and such bare seeds may be collected from under yew trees.
There are ornamental garden varieties, some with yellow fruit or even golden foliage – these have to be propagated by cuttings.
Yew trees do not need rich soil but they do need a well drained site, preferably not too exposed to wind or frost.
The leaves are poisonous to most livestock, and the seeds are also toxic, so care must be taken in planting it where animals and children are not at risk. The fruit are eaten safely by birds, and yew is in fact a good tree for wildlife. Birds roost and nest in it.
Fruits maybe gathered as soon as they are ripe and brightly coloured. It is best to collect seeds from a group of yew trees in woodland. For a small number of seeds, you could try collecting under the trees for those left in bird droppings.
Remove the flesh. Seeds may be sown straight away but germination is uneven. They are better stratified for at least two seasons.
Sow in early Spring after the second winter of stratification. Seedlings are slow growing and can be left on site for two years, then lined out at 30cm apart for a further two years before placing in permanent sites.
Yew can be propagated by cuttings, taken in September but this is generally used for garden species which are not fertile.