Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. III April 1, 1926 No. 17

Issued monthly during the winter; weekly during the summer season by the Mount Rainier Nature Guide Service.
F. W. Schmoe Park Naturalist.

(See cover sketch)

One of the most interesting trees of the moist northwestern forest is the western or oregon yew. Although never found in large quantities it is well distributed thru the lower forests of the Park up to 4,000 feet elevation. It never grows to be a large tree, seldom attaining a height of more than 20 or 30 feet and a diameter of more than 18 inches. In fact a tree 12 inches at the base is a large tree.

The bark is mottled due to its habit of shedding thin irregular flakes. The new bark when freshly exposed is a rich dark red in color. The older patches vary from deep brownish red to a peculiar purple shade seldom found in plants.

The heartwood is a dark reddish brown similar in color to the new bark. It is very dense, close grained, and heavy. Yew wood will not float. The ring of sap wood is almost white, giving a pleasant contrast. It takes a fine polish and is so hard that the Indians used it for spear points and made fish hooks from it. They also used it extensively for handles to their various flint and shell implements and tools and preferred it to all other woods in the manufacture of bows.

In fact yew is famous the world over as the finest possible bow wood and has played a prominent part in history and legend from the time when England was inhabited only by the primitive Britons and Celts.

Robin Hood and his jolly band hewed their bows from the English yew and the famous long-bow men of England were equipped with yew wood bows before the time of the Crusades. Most of the bows used in archery today are made from the western yew of Oregon and Washington and recently Saxon Pope and Arthur Young, two famous American bowmen, killed lions and other big game in Africa with yew wood bows and steel tipped arrows.

The tree has a rugged grace and a sturdy appearance which, coupled with the glossy green of the leaves makes the yew one of the most beautiful of our trees. The needles are about three quarters of an inch in length and are arranged in two rows horizontally flattened. The fruit is a small bright, amber-red berry with a large seed. They are not edible. The tree prefers to grow in the dense shade of the lower forests where the soil is rich and always moist.

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