Pacific yew - Taxus brevifolia

The Pacific yew tree (species: Taxus brevifolia) is common in the forests of the Northwestern United States. It also goes by the common names of "Western yew" or "Oregen yew". The images in this post come from trees that I found in northern Idaho Western red cedar forests. This tree species is somewhat unique in that it is an evergreen with a berry like seed cone. These are called "arils" and are about 8-12 mm in diameter. They have a round shape but have an opening on the bottom side (see image below)

The berry like seed containers mature to a red color and contain a single seed. The seeds are dispersed by birds who eat the aril and then deposit the seed in their excrement. The leaves of the Pacific yew tree are flat and needle-like similar to some fir trees. The leaflets are about 2-3 cm in length and have point on the ends. The leaves are also arranged horizontally on the branches.
One of the distinctive features of the Pacific yew is that neither its main trunk or branches are straight but rather tend to be somewhat curvy and irregular. In western forests these trees grow in the shade of much larger trees are also most likely impacted by deep snows in the winter.
The bark of the Pacific yew tree is light brown in color and exhibits a flaky texture that peels off in thin strips. The main trunks on these trees were about 8 inches in diameter.

The Pacific yew tree is one of the tree species used in the making of wood archery bows.
This tree is a relative of the European Yew.


  1. The most significant thing about the Pacific Yew is that its bark is the source of the commonly used chemotherapy Taxol (paclitaxel). When this was first discovered, the trees were heavily harvested and even headed towards endangered status. Fortunately, somebody figured out how to synthesize the chemical!

  2. Anyone have experience cultivating them in a garden/yard? I think they're very pretty and am planting some small evergreens in my North yard.

  3. My wife was diagnosed with cancer this past month, and I found out that this tree contains the active ingredient in chemotherapy (Taxol). I found myself truly fascinated by this tree and am thankful someone discovered this at some point. Thank you.

  4. I was working on a biology report on taxol and this helped tremendously! Thank you.

  5. Just a caution, do not burn any kind of Yew. The smoke is poisonous.