Nature Notes

Vol. XVI September - December - 1938 Nos. 3 & 4

(Taxus brevifolia)

This interesting evergreen is fairly common in the deep forests of Mount Rainier National Park up to an elevation of 4000 feet. It is not a large tree, being generally from 3-12 inches in diameter and from 15-25 feet tall. However, specimens 24 inches in diameter and 40 feet tall have been observed. The trunk is characteristically ridged and fluted and the thin reddish-brown outer bark scales off in thin irregular plates to expose the rose-red inner bark to view. The needles are flat, up to 3/4 of an inch in length, dark yellow-green on the upper side and pale green below, soft to the touch and tipped with a short, slender point. While the needles are arranged spirally upon the branches, a twist at the base gives them the appearance of being arranged comb-like on either side of the twig. In late June and early July one will notice the small bud-like. yellowish, staminate flowers which are borne abundantly upon the under side of the branches. The greenish pistillate flowers, also borne upon the underside of the branches, are not as numerous but these later develop into a very handsome fruit, 1/4-1/2 inch in diameter, which is composed of a hard green seed partly surrounded by a fleshy, gelatinous, bright red disk or aril. Birds eat this fruit, as they are attracted by the color of the fleshy disk, and Sudworth states that the seeds of the tree are disseminated in this manner as the hard seed is not injured by digestive processes. The wood is durable, reddish in color, and very heavy. It was originally used by the Indians of the Pacific Northwest in the manufacture of harpoons, canoe paddles, etc. while in more recent years it has become highly prized a s material for bows by devotees of the modern version of archery. It is a tree of slow growth and presumably, it attains a great age. A specimen in the park museum at Longmire, which is eight inches in diameter, was 150 years of age when cut.

The botanical range of the western yew includes that portion of the Pacific Coast region from the southern tip of Alaska south to northern California, and inland to the Selkirks, Cascades, and Sierra Nevadas. It will also be found in the mountains of eastern Washington and Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana, as far east as the western slope of the Continental divide.


sketch of Western Yew
WESTERN YEW (Taxus brevifolia). A-Twig and foliage (x1). B-Enlarged section of a twig illustrating the character of the fruit; a hard green nut-like center partially enclosed by a fleshy red aril (x1-1/2).


Descriptions continued...

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