Chinese Yew Plant Profile

How to Grow It, How to Use It, and a Warning

Closeup of branches of Chinese yew.

tc397 / Getty Images

Not all evergreens are coniferous (cone-bearing), and not all conifers are evergreens, but the Chinese yew is both. If you expect this plant to bear the typical cone, though, you are in for a big surprise. The red "cones" that it produces look more like berries. Many people over the years, lured to these beautiful, fruit-like cones, have been unable to resist the temptation to eat them and have paid the price for doing so. Do not make the same mistake!

Botanical Name Taxus chinensis
Common Name Chinese yew
Plant Type Needled evergreen tree often trimmed to be shrub-like
Mature Size 60 feet tall in the wild
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Loam with good drainage
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.5
Bloom Time Not grown for its flower
Flower Color Not grown for its flower
Hardiness Zones  5 to 7
Native Area China and Vietnam

How to Grow Chinese Yew Plant

One of the virtues of Chinese yew is that it is so easy to grow. It tolerates drought, and it is not fussy about the amount of sunlight it receives, as long as you avoid growing it in full shade.

Light

Grow Chinese yew in full sun to partial shade.

Soil

Grow Chinese yew in a soil that drains well.

Water

Chinese yew has average water needs.

Fertilizer

Fertilize in early spring with a granular, high-nitrogen fertilizer. The typical fertilizer suitable for the Taxus genus has an NPK mix of 12-6-4. Apply the fertilizer one foot from the trunk and extend it to the dripline. Use 0.33 pounds of fertilizer per one foot of plant height.

Propagation

If you wish to turn a current Chinese yew into multiple plants, without having to spend money for them, the plant, fortunately, roots easily from cuttings.

Warning

A yew is not an ideal plant to grow in the yard if you have young children. Most parts of the plant are poisonous: the bark, leaves, and seeds. An exception is the flesh of the aril (berry-like cone). In spite of this odd exception, the aril cannot really be said to be safe to eat, since the seed inside it is toxic.

Uses for Chinese Yew

Traditionally, in China, the wood from Chinese yew has been used to make products such as furniture. It has also been used medicinally and in bonsai.

In the landscape, Chinese yew, being an evergreen, provides winter interest. The red arils furnish further interest, as does the bark, which peels attractively the way the bark does on some types of birch trees (Betula spp.). Chinese yew is valued by bird watchers for its ability to attract songbirds.

For many homeowners, the height that this plant can reach would be problematic. In the wild, it can become 60 feet tall. Chinese yew is, however, a slow grower, reaching a height of just 5 to 10 feet after 10 years. Also, it can be pruned to keep it more shrub-like. But its mature size makes it ill-suited to be a foundation plant.

If, by contrast, you wish to take advantage of the impressive size that Chinese yew trees can eventually attain, you can plant several of them in a row to form a windbreak, noise barrier, or living privacy screen.

Other Types of Yew and Similar Plants

There are many kinds of yew plants, and they can be used in many ways, including as specimens, in hedges, and in foundation plantings. They come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Examples include:

  • Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata), zones 4 to 7: The 'Aurescens' cultivar reaches only 3 feet tall and wide. The foliage starts out bright yellow in spring, morphing to green in summer.
  • English yew (Taxus baccata), zones 6 to 7: The 'Fastigiata' cultivar has a columnar shape, growing 15 to 30 feet tall by 4 to 8 feet wide.
  • Hybrid yew (Taxus × media), zones 5 to 8: The Hicksii cultivar is another bush with a columnar shape, becoming 12 to 20 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide.

Chinese yew, as indicated by its genus name (Taxus), is a true yew. There is another plant, Cephalotaxus fortunei, bearing the common name of "Chinese plum yew," that, while belonging to the Taxaceae family, is not a true yew. Like Chinese yew, it is a coniferous evergreen. It can be a shrub or a small tree, typically becoming 10 feet tall. It is useful as a hedge plant. Whereas Chinese yew can be grown in either sun or shade, Chinese plum yew is less versatile, needing partial shade or full shade. Another difference is that Chinese yew is more suitable for the North, while Chinese plum yew grows best in zones 7 to 9.