Pacific Yew

(Taxus brevifolia)

A medical marvel
The Pacific yew can be readily recognized from its lookalike, the western hemlock, by its more orderly needle arrangement, but it’s the bark of the Pacific yew that is truly amazing. In the 1960s a chemical in the bark called taxol was found to inhibit breast and ovarian cancers. Today the medicine is synthesized from English yew foliage, so Pacific yews are not peeled or harvested for taxol.

Pacific yew is widely distributed in the Pacific Northwest, yet seldom found in large concentrations. It's usually found in moist, shady areas and as an understory tree in older forests.

Considered a small to medium-size evergreen tree, the Pacific yew is extremely slow-growing and often rots from the inside, creating hollow forms. The brown bark is thin and scaly. The leaves are flat and dark green and arranged in a spiral on the stem. The fruit is a bright red “berry” or aril, which is highly poisonous to humans, especially small children, if eaten.

Pacific Yew is often an understory itself. Seldom growing more than 40 feet tall, this tree looks more like a very large shrub.  

Pacific yew prefers the cool, moist climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Pacific yew is slow-growing and is most abundant in older forests where disturbance such as logging or fire has not happened in recent years. Pacific yew is one of the few conifers that can sprout from its base if the top is killed or damaged.


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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