'Tis the season for saying "I love you." Valentine's Day or not, you might also say "I love yew" -- the plant.
You might love the way yew is so easy to grow. Just stick yew in any soil that is well-drained and yew'll quickly develop and bear fruits. And what a pretty sight are the scarlet fruits of yews -- each with a dark, brown seed peeking out its end.
Yew tolerates winter cold and even polluted city air. Yew does not like full sunlight in howling, winter winds, but with a little shelter is otherwise happy in either sun or shade. And yew wood is rich, red, fine-grained, and strong, yet pliable. Yew finds its way into fine cabinetry, and Robin Hood allegedly used a branch of yew to make his longbow.
Yew can be tall and thin, tall and fat, short and thin or just spread out over the ground like a thick, green blanket. With all the species and hundreds of years of cultivation giving rise to many hybrids and varieties, you could find yews whose mature heights range from a mere 3 feet to more than 50 feet.
Yew also tolerates pruning well. Shear yew a couple of times a year into a perfect sphere, clip back individual branches for a natural look or cut away lower branches to show off the trunk. Then, if you change your mind about your yew, you can brutally hack back the limbs and they will send out new sprouts -- something most conifers will not do.
Even the rose has its thorns; yew also has its shortcomings. Deer love yew. And almost all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. (Offset this defect with the anticancer compound, taxol, recently isolated from yew.) Worst of all, though, and perhaps because the plant is so tolerant of site and pruning, yew too often is just planted against house foundations and sculpted into gumdrops and cubes.
One more problem you might have noticed with yew is its name, which always needs to be followed by a qualifier. Your neighbor surely will give you a quizzical look if you say, "I'm going to plant yew," unless you quickly add, "You know, the plant." The plant sometimes goes by its botanical name, Taxus, but how does "I love Taxus" sound, especially now, with tax forms arriving in mailboxes? Not a bad time for "I love yew," though.
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