Wood Atlas - Xylarium

Yew Burl

lat. Taxus baccata

Yew Burl

Yew (Taxus baccata) - Wakehurst Place, England ©Marco SchmidtYew (Taxus baccata) is an evergreen conifers, although it is the only conifer that does not contain resin in either its wood or bark. It has many variants all over the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, but it also appears in warmer regions, such as Turkey, too. It also does not form cones. Yews can live for up to 3,000 years and reach up to 50 feet high. They grow very slowly and are the hardest of the conifer woods. It is also extremely elastic and was used in English longbows. It is considered highly toxic due to the levels of taxine it contains. Taxine is an alkaloid blend that directly affects the heart muscle and can kill animals such as horses. Only the red aril is not poisonous and could be used to make jam, for example. But everything has two sides, including taxol, which is also a cancer inhibitor. The yew occupies a very special place in Celtic mythology as the gateway and threshold to the other world, an interpretation continued by the presence of some very old gnarled yews in very old cemeteries. The yew also holds a key role in Germanic/Norse mythology: Odin hung upside down on a yew and sought the secret to deciphering the runes. Although the sources disagree, it is more likely that the yggdrasil tree of mythology was a yew and not an ash. I also recommend spending a warm summer’s night under a yew to those traveling to the other world. Thanks to its elasticity, the wood of the yew was THE wood of choice for the English longbow in medieval times, a fact which almost led to its extinction in Europe. Almost all of the continent’s large yew forests were cleared to create the weapons of war and they still have not really recovered.
Yew wood is very hard, heavy, and extremely elastic. Because of its durability it is well suited for any type of furniture, fine crafts, or musical instruments. Although it can be a bit touchy, yew wood is wonderful to worth with, especially carving.

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