Species Spotlight – Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew)

Taxus canadensis

Canadian yew is a rare, evergreen groundcover with landscape potential

I had always heard from other botanists and forestry professionals that Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew) was all-but-extinct except in hard to find or otherwise pristine locations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  In fact, since I had never knowingly found the plant in my 40 years of paying attention to native plants.  Recently, however, i had been observing what I thought was some strange stoloniferous hemlock growing in a variety of PA state parks, except it didn’t have the silver stripe on its needles.  I even consulted with my botanist friends to figure out what I was seeing; an oddity for sure.

Then, finally, I stumbled across a gorge in West Virgina absolutely filled with the stuff.  Could it be Taxus canadensis?  Indeed it was.  So finally I understood its habitat and what the plant should look like.

Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew) is a shallow-rooted, stoloniferous conifer that can found in undisturbed ravines with turbulent streams and moist forests with plenty of light.  It thrives best when there is some environmental activity that thins the canopy, such as steep slopes, lumber harvesting, heavy ice loads, or along forest road cuts or large trails.  Taxus canadensis is short, about 18″ high in healthy colonies, which can easily spread 30-50′ in any direction.  Finding seed on Taxus canadensis is rare, probably due to the lack of light in a maturing forest, similar to what we observe on Gaylusacia brachycera (box huckleberry).

Taxus canadensis is monoecious, which means that it produces both male and female flowers so a single plant could, theoretically, set fertile seed although seed set might be suppressed.  Canadian yew should perform nicely in a properly-prepared bed with the right amount of light.  ArcheWild will be conducting trials on this species starting in 2019 to assess propagation techniques and landscape worthiness.

Taxus canadensis USDA range map
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