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Evergreen of Interest for Carolina Landscapes

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The Chinese yew, Taxus chinensis, has emerged as having great potential in our Carolina landscapes. This small evergreen tree somewhat resembles a hemlock but grows only 10 feet in height. A specimen just outside the lath house at the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) at NC State University is still performing magnificently after many years.

This tree is easy to root from cuttings, responds well to pruning and is tolerant of heat, drought, sun, and shade. You may actually be familiar with many other members of this family of trees but perhaps don’t realize it. Known by the common name of yews, they can be tree-form, shrub-like, dwarf, or prostrate in habit. Whatever the shape, all yews are narrow-leaved evergreens with needles about an inch long in two ranks that are spirally arranged along the green twigs. The fruits are most distinctive. The yew produces a fleshy berry about the size of a pea and is open on one end to reveal a single, hard seed inside. The seeds are often poisonous, so be sure to teach children not to randomly eat parts of any landscape plant, yews included.

Most people have great familiarity with the English yew, Taxus baccata, which is among the most ancient of trees with some English specimens known to be 3,000 years old. It has also been a mainstay of the American suburban landscape for decades. Another relative, Japanese yew, T. cuspidata, also shows great hardiness and variability within the genus. All yews seem to be capable of hybridizing among themselves which has led to a great degree of confusion at times in naming the species.

Look carefully for Chinese yews in your local garden centers. If you can’t find them, ask for them, repeatedly. Try the Internet, too, as mail order sources are becoming more prominent in this new age of marketing plants. The JCRA is certainly one place where a quick look at this plant is an easy way to make your own evaluation. While you’re there, make a comparison of the more than half dozen types of yews in their collections.

Carl Matyac