Yew is the “Tree of Death” for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s a traditional graveyard tree and 2) it kills you.
Almost every part of it is toxic to humans.
In Nashville, it’s a ubiquitous foundation planting / hedge, even though all our Yews are either English or Japanese or a combo. I haven’t met Eastern North America’s native Yew, which is rare in Tennessee, and not sold at conventional nurseries.
My neighbors grow a Yew hedge right on the sidewalk, and I’ve always been fascinated by the fruit: the “arils.” Arils! Just the name is interesting. “Fleshy layer around seed” is the inadequate definition I found.
At first I thought it was a special name for fleshy layers of a conifer seed, but then I read that the scrumptious, ruby-colored meat around a Pomegranate seed is also called aril. That’s when my interest in etymology waned and my interest in eating peaked.
Yew arils look like candy.
Birds eat them, though I haven’t seen this in action.
The red isn’t shiny: it’s got a faint, powdery bloom to it, as if dusted with a puff of confectioner’s sugar.
And see how the dark seed peeps from the center of the red flesh?
This arrangement is far too fetching for our own good.
If you eat that seed, you die.
But if you eat the red bit *around* the seed, you’re okay.
Slimy. Not much flavor, but a pleasant level of Sweet.
If I grew young children near a Yew that twinkled fetching, candy-colored, Eat-Me arils, I’d ask some nice naturalist to rip out the shrub and replace it with something far more useful to the watershed and less deadly to humans.
-English / European Yew / Taxus baccata
-Japanese Yew / Taxus cuspidata
(Taxus x media specimens are hybrids of the two, followed by cultivar name.)
-Canada Yew / Taxus canadensis is my nearest American version, and it’s ranked S-1 Rare in Tennessee.
Don’t eat Yew.
Lots of medicines come from Yew.
But my tongue feels weird now, so I won’t be trying it again.
My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.
I’m not fond of facebook, but some people aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.
Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.