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Yew

Taxus baccata

Season

Colour

Habitat

Six red Yew berries alongside two younger green berries

A mature yew is compelling for its dense, dark evergreen foliage and buttressed trunk that has a colour close to mahogany.

Yew has a unique and remarkable association with churchyards where it was planted over graves to protect and purify the dead, and also for more mundane reasons such as being planted on a protected site to provide wood for long bows and to keep poisonous foliage out of reach of browsing cattle. It is also used for providing decoration for churches.

Clusters of red berried on branches of the Yew in a warm light

Where to spot it

Yew is concentrated in south-east and central England. It is primarily found in churchyards and woodland.

It is principally a species of well-drained chalk and limestone soils. In ancient woods it grows alongside ash, maple and beech.

Best time to spot it

The best time to spot Yew is over the winter, specifically in November, December and January.

Does Yew have any medicinal value?

It’s important to note that every part of the yew is poisonous except the flesh of its red berrylike fruit (the aril), although even that contains a toxic seed. The aril is slightly sweet which makes it tempting for children. Eating just a few seeds or a handful of leaves causes gastrointestinal problems, a dangerous drop in pulse rate and possible heart failure. Many victims are found dead and therefore are never able to describe their symptoms. Suicide by Yew was a way of avoiding defeat in Ceasar’s Gallic Wars.

However, Yews do contain an alkaloid named taxol which seems to be effective against ovarian, breast and lung cancers. Drug companies and research laboratories are offering to buy the foliage in bulk.

Two bright red berries on the green branches of the Yew

Things you might not know

  • Yew’s sticky red berries are popular with birds, and bird-sown seedlings can colonise open chalk downland as well.
  • In some parts of the UK you might hear Yew referred to as ‘Hampshire weed’ or ‘Snotty-gogs’ (for the berries).
  • The world’s oldest known wooden artefact is a 250,000-year-old yew-spear that was found at Clacton in Essex. The timber is so hard that it outlives iron.
  • The slow-growing yew can live two or three centuries but it is difficult to date mature trees because the dense wood does not always produce rings.
  • Yews are often pruned into formal hedges such as Hampton Court Palace’s famous 300-year-old hedge maze.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Mistletoe

Viscum album

From kissing traditions at Christmas to ancient fertility rites, mistletoe has long been regarded as a magical plant.

Mistletoe colonies are vital for six species of insect that live nowhere else. It is the County flower of Herefordshire and is often harvested as a winter crop from their cider and perry orchards.

Distribution

Found across the UK, however its heartland is in the English / Welsh border counties and Somerset. Despite this, all is not well. The loss of traditional apple orchards has hit mistletoe hard and the work of birds such as the Mistle Thrush in smearing seeds on new branches may not be enough to counteract this decline.

Habitat

It can be found hanging in broadleaf trees, orchard trees and others, especially lime and poplar.

Best time to see

February to April when it flowers or winter when its berries appear.

Did you know?

The scientific name of this white berry can translate as “white goo”. Local names include Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-Bush.

It is said to overcome epilepsy and this is not altogether fanciful since it has an active principle which is antispasmodic and reduces blood pressure.

It is often associated with the ancient Druids, whose reverence of the plant during the winter solstice was described by Pliny and Caesar. Perhaps it was the sight of its pearly white berries growing apparently rootless, high above the ground, in the largely dead months of winter. Like holly and ivy – also revered – mistletoe appears to be in its prime when other wild flowers have gone.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

String-of-sausages Lichen

Usnea articulata 

  • Grey-green tassels of up to 1 m hanging down or draped across the substrate but rarely anchored to it.  
  • Main stems have inflated sections which are pinched at intervals, and so resemble a string of sausages. This is a key feature to look for as there are other pendulous Usnea species but none have this characteristic.

Habitat

It is most common in the south west’s temperate rainforest zone. 

Favouring well-lit conditions and dry, open situations, it is most often found in tree canopies or on lower branches where trees are well-lit, in woodland or on scattered trees in open moorland. You can also find it on the ground after stormy weather. 

Similar species

Other large, bearded lichens include Usnea ceratina, Usnea dasopoga and Usnea hirta but these lack the sausage-like lobes. 

Did you know

  • It is a Section 41 species which means that it is considered of “principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England” under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006).
  • A clean air indicator, rare outside of south-west England’s rainforest zone. Highly sensitive to sulphur dioxide pollution, it was once much more widespread in Britain but now appears to be making a comeback, perhaps due to improved air quality and a warming climate. 

Distribution 

Largely restricted to south-western parts of the UK with most records in south-west England. 

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Meadow Waxcap

Hygrocybe pratensis

Apricot mushroom with flat top

How to identify:

CapApricot, slightly pitted and with powdery bloom sometimes visible with a hand lens, fading to buff with age. Convex, becoming flattened or slightly concave. 
Cap Diameter2.5 – 10 cm 
GillsPale whitish apricot 
StemsWhitish apricot, tapering to the base. 
FleshWhitish apricot 
SporesWhite

 

 

Where to find them?

Meadow Waxcaps (Hygrocybe pratensis) are a common find on cropped grassland and upland pastures. It appears from late August until December. Particularly in upland areas on acidic soil, the Meadow Waxcap is one of the few waxcap species that can tolerate small amounts of fertiliser being applied to its grassland habitat.

Did you know?

Two varieties of the Meadow Waxcap occur in BritainOne is apricot and the other is paler and almost white. It is a conspicuous and robust waxcap often persisting for several weeks. 

Don’t mistake it with…

Pink Ballerina

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

White Campion

White Campion

Silene latifolia

Hazel Glove Fungus

Hypocreopsis rhododendri

Description

Found on Hazel trees in Britain, it is actually parasitic on the Glue Crust fungus Hymenochaete corrugate not living off the Hazel tree. It is not always possible to see the host crust fungus due to the presence of the Hazel Glove fungus and mosses.

Hazel Glove Fungus’ common name comes from the finger-like projections of the stromata (cushion-like plate of solid mycelium).  It is a type of ascomycete fungus. When mature, the central area of a stroma becomes pinkish brown, and individual perithecia (tiny black dots on the surface of these orange lobes which are sac openings which release the spores) become visible.

Distribution

Most likely to find in either west coast of Scotland in Atlantic Hazel woodland or temperate rainforest sites or in the south west of England, in North Devon and Cornwall, again in temperate rainforest habitat.

Habitat

Temperate rainforest, parasitic on Glue Crust fungus Hymenochaete corrugata on Hazel trees.

Did you know?

Hazel Glove fungus is an indicator of good air quality and temperate rainforest conditions, making it a flagship species for this threatened habitat.

Temperate rainforests are found in areas that are influenced by the sea, with high rainfall and humidity and damp climate. They are home to some intriguing and sometimes rare bryophytes, plants and fungi.

Plantlife are working in many ways to protect and restore this globally threatened habitat.

Other Species

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Silene flos-cuculi