What’s Eating Yew?

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.

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 local nurseries.

Anyway, I’m trying to learn all the exotic foundation shrubs in typical home landscaping, so that I can recommend *native* alternatives. Because, you know, so many people are queuing up for me to rip out their invasive exotics and to plant something native that can actually contribute to the foodweb, be a larval butterfly host, or feed birds, or whatever. 

Birds do eat the fruit, but I can’t find any info on native Lepidoptera species using these shrubs as host plants. Do you know if U.S. butterfly or moth larvae eat English / Japanese Yews?

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. But aren’t most seeds are surrounded by fleshy layers? You don’t hear them called arils. Why?

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.

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.

Just in case, I waited till my husband came home before I tried it. I didn’t want a Yew aril to be the last thing I saw.

Slimy. Not much flavor, but a pleasant level of Sweet. A nibble was enough. 

Another Verdict:
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 far 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. Yay.
But my tongue feels weird now, so don’t eat Yew.

More #SidewalkNature:

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.

The Wrong Acorns

[or, “How are Acorns Like Pizza?”]

On the sidewalk was a mystery. The evidence? The wrong acorns.

Neighborhood Black oaks are raining acorns onto the sidewalk. Normal, right? But each acorn has been bitten by a squirrel—just a mouthful taken from the top—and then discarded. For years I’ve wondered at this: not just at the extravagance of the waste, but at the species of acorn. It was the wrong one.

Continue reading “The Wrong Acorns”

Lunch guest

[kitchen table show ‘n’ tell]

Today during Lovingly Prepared Lunch #168 (in the Age of Coronavirus), a chubby caterpillar was discovered crawling up my kid’s T-shirt.

And my kid, who discovered it (“What is THAT?”) then suggested I clear the table *before* the next Lovingly Prepared Lunch.

At every meal, I scoot acorns and plants and whatnot out of the way, to make room for Blue Willow china, so I figured we were okay supping among seasonal treasures. But we all have our limits. His limit was a larva during Baked tofu.

Continue reading “Lunch guest”

Backyard Bats

Image 6-15-20 at 5.11 PM
photo from @Stonecrop.Review on Instagram, link below

I’ve got a short piece about backyard bats in the “Sky” issue of Stonecrop Review: “a journal of urban nature writing, art & photography.” The essay is called “Same Bat Time.”

And dayeinu—this would have been enough—but Holly McKelvy, one of the editors, made artwork for my essay and matched the tone perfectly perfect. Continue reading “Backyard Bats”

Carpenter bee board

Google “Carpenter bees,” and the Internet will assume you forgot to type “how to kill.” It will provide endless hits on endless ways to poison, trap, starve, drown, squish, and otherwise kill Carpenter bees.

Confession: I’ve tried them all.

That was BEFORE naturalist training, and before years of looking around at the goings-on in my own yard. Continue reading “Carpenter bee board”

Eat the Exotics: vine honeysuckle

There were mean dogs near the vine honeysuckle, so I grabbed an order To-Go.

Honeysuckle vine is invasive. It’s an undisputed thug. It forms dense canopies that smother, shade, strangle, and poison our native habitat. It’s a top-tier offender at local Weed Wrangles.

I love it.

I love the scent. Especially at dusk when cool air trickles through the yard and floats the fragrance with it.
I love the taste. To pull a bloom and lick the nectar is to lick the spring. Continue reading “Eat the Exotics: vine honeysuckle”

Fleabane focus

My friend Taunia forwarded a question from her local listserve. It was a native plant question, so of course I dropped everything to answer right that minute. Laundry could wait. As could paperwork and four-lined plant bugs and the oodles of other Shelter-in-Place tasks that had already broken me for the day. What a relief to sit for a few moments and to focus, quietly, on . . . fleabane. Continue reading “Fleabane focus”

Accidental Crossvine

This is what can happen when we don’t trim the holy crap out of every edge in the yard. I let this native crossvine volunteer up a wall and now LOOK AT THIS BEAUTY.

Of course, ugly things can happen when you never trim at all, but right now I have BEAUTY and I’m looking at it.  Continue reading “Accidental Crossvine”