Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) is native to Korea, northeastern China, and Japan. Japanese yew was named in 1846 and introduced to England around 1855 by R. Fortune. A dwarf version (‘Nana’) was the first to reach North American in the early 1860s and the tree version (called ‘Capitata’) was introduced in 1892. “Taxus” refers to the old Latin name for yews. The specific name refers to the sharp pointed tips of the foliage. Distinguished from T. baccata by its stiff, spine-tipped leaves which are golden or brownish yellow on the underside. It is a very hardy species introduced to the west by Robert Fortune in 1855. It now has 90 named forms and over 130 hybrids with Common Yew. The diversity of the yews comes from the fact that they are dioecious and therefore hybridize with other varieties and species e.g. Taxus xmedia (a hybrid between T. cuspidata x T. baccata. T. baccata leaves are gradually acuminate and its winter buds are not keeled; while the leaves of T cuspidata are abruptly pointed and its winter buds are keeled. T cuspidata leaves are 2-ranked while T. baccata leaves are variably 2-ranked.
Common name: Japanese Yew
Scientific Name (family and order): Taxus cuspidata Sieb. & Zucc. (Taxaceae, Cupressales)
Species Origin: Korea, China, Russia, Japan
New Jersey Status: USDA Introduced
Habit: 10 – 40’ tall with an equal or greater spread. Crown may be erect or flat, broad or narrow. Can be grown as tree or multi-stemmed shrub.
Habitat: Zone 4 -7.
Trunk/Stem: Bark reddish brown exfoliating in scales or long strips.
Leaves: Evergreen, Simple, Needles, short-stalked; usually not uniquely 2-ranked but needles upright and irregularly V-shaped, straight or slightly curved and slightly leathery; apex abruptly sharp-pointed; ½” – 1” long and 1/12 – 1/8” wide. Dull to dark lustrous green above, paler beneath with two yellow-green bands.
Flowers: Dioecious; both male and female flower small. Male flower, stalked, globose, pale in color clustered in leaf axils, each consisting of 6 – 14 stamens with short filaments, beneath the shoot and shed large amounts of pollen in spring; female flowers singly at the end of young shoots on separate plants in early spring. Flowers open March-April.
Fruits and seeds: A single seed enclosed in a fleshy, usually red aril (referred to as “a fleshy fruit-like cone”), 1/8” long, open at the top exposing the olive-green seed. The aril is green before expanding and maturing. Seed ovoid 1/3” long and hard.