Taxus canadensis

Canada Yew

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods



  • Taxus, from the Latin taxus, "yew tree"
  • canadensis, from the Latin, "of Canada"
  • Common Name, from its primary North American range
  • Other common names include: American Yew, Ground Hemlock


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Coniferophyta, the Conifers
      • Class Pinopsida
        • Order Taxales
          • Family Taxaceae, the Yews
            • Genus Taxus, the Yews
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 194885
  • Also known as Taxus minor, Taxus baccata var. canadensis, Taxus baccata var. minor, Taxus baccata var. procumbens



  • A native, evergreen, coniferous shrub, 1'-3' and occasionally to 6' tall.
  • Branches dense, spreading up to 6' long.
  • Bark nearly smooth.
  • Fruit a fleshy, red orange, cuplike aril surrounding a single seed.


  • Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa.


  • Humid, continental climates; in cool, rich, damp woods and wooded swamps; on banks; along bog margins; and ravines. Grows on moist, loam soils; best on well-drained silt loams of pH 5.0 to 7.5.
  • Slow growing, shade tolerant species that grows best in the stable environmental conditions of climax forests. Does not occur in early or mid-successional communities.
  • Growth is best in at least partial shade. Appears to have a competitive advantage over intolerant species only under a well-developed canopy. Balsam Fir does not reproduce where yew forms dense ground layers.
  • Populations migrate; they increase in size by layering, and die back in older portions, which then allows other plants to come in.
  • A shrub layer component of many forest communities, including Spruce/Fir, and Mixed Northern Hardwoods. It is indicative of cool and moist, old-growth conditions.
  • Intolerant to moderate or heavy browsing by moose or deer.
  • Disturbances tend to exclude yew and any removal of the overstory is likely to be detrimental.


  • Not well adapted to fire. Probably easily killed by fire. Fire is likely to result in decreased populations; any disturbance that opens the canopy reduces the competitive advantage of the shade tolerant yew.


  • Trees:
  • Shrubs: Moose Maple (Acer spicatum), Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), Alternate Leaf Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta), American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), Partidgeberry (Mitchella repens), Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Red Elderberry (Sambucus pubens)
  • Herbs: Blue Bead Lily (Clintonia borealis), Spinulose Woodfern (Dryopteris spinulosa),Shining Clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), Common Woodsorrel (Oxalis montana)
  • Ground Covers: Reindeer Mosses (Cladonia spp.), Dicranum Mosses (Dicranum spp.), Schreber' s Feathermoss (Pleurozium schreberi), Ptilidium pulcherrimum,
  • Mammals: Moose Candy. Provides year round browse for moose and is an important winter food for white-tailed deer where it is available. Highly preferred by moose and white-tailed deer.
  • Birds: Fleshy aril eaten by many birds, including ruffed grouse, and various nongame birds, such as cedar waxwings, robins, and starlings.


  • Native American tribes in Michigan and Quebec used the foliage to make a beverage.


  • The aril of Canada yew can be eaten by humans.


  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by layering.
  • Monoecious, producing a single seed per female strobilus, but under certain conditions it is dioecious. Most produce some seed almost every year. The seeds are disseminated by birds. Natural germination usually does not take place until the second year. The seeds exhibit a strong but variable dormancy that can be broken by combined warm and cold stratification.
  • Commonly reproduces by layering, forming a continuous population of genetically identical plants. The connections between genets usually rot.


  • By seed, following cold stratification.
  • Division most successful method


  • Suggested for conservation planting, though it would probably not do well except on shady, moist sites. It is planted as an ornamental but is more often used as parental stock for the formation of new hybrids. Not as versatile as other species of yew for ornamental purposes.
  • Numerous horticultural varieties are available. Canada yew is more cold hardy than English yew (Taxus baccata) or Japanese yew (Taxuscuspidata), which are also used for ornamentals.


Boreal border
Last updated on 9 August 1999