It’s also planted on zillion-dollar estates and world-famous historic sites, like Windsor Castle and Versailles. Because yew is an obedient plant. You can shape it into almost any shape you want–it’s like botanical Silly Putty. It can tolerate “extreme pruning”–doesn’t object to being trimmed by a hedgeclipper into the most outlandish shapes–a dragon, a giraffe, a castle, or a softball.
There’s a bewildering variety of yews, both trees and shrubs: English yew, Mexican yew, Himalayan yew, Japanese yew. The fat green shrubs planted for landscaping are usually crosses between English and Japanese. All the yews are tough and hardy; slow growers, but also quite long-lived. An English yew tree can live up to 2,000 years.
Yes. Two. Thousand. Years. This row of bushes may still be standing when Sears has crumbled into dust.
On the other hand, they’re poisonous. All parts of all yews, except the outer flesh of the berries, are quite exceptionally toxic. There’s more than a few records of Ancient Britons using yews to commit suicide rather than surrender to the invading Romans. Seems a little odd yews are found in schoolyards and housing developments all over the place–there were dozens of them where I grew up. (Given my propensity for eating wild plants as a child, it’s quite remarkable that I survived, really.)
Suicide weapon. Christmas decoration. Deadly poison. Life-saving medicine. Bird food. Castle topiary. Bonsai tree. Suburban mall decor. You wear a lot of hats, yew.