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Posts Tagged ‘Druid culture’

It was a dark and stormy night and the wind was blowing through the trees in the cemetery as I trudged past. I shivered and pulled my coat collar up to protect me from the chill. As I walked along, the shadows moved and I shuddered as I passed the dark eerie Common Yew (Taxus baccata) trees because I knew that these trees were always sacred to the Druids. It was one of the five great trees that stood in their sacred sites.

 A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

Taxus baccata is native to Ireland, England , through Europe down into the northern tip of Africa and over to West Asia. It is in northern Europe where Common Yew has been a significant tree associated with various early religions and cults. In Norse mythology we meet the Yggdrasil ‘the world tree’. Yggdrasill means Yew (support)pillar leading some theorists to believe this tree is a Yew instead of the traditional Ash(Fraxinus species) Yew are also connected with the ‘Fairy races’ of Ireland and Wales. Many tales connect these trees to fairy rings, mysterious appearances and disappearances.

 Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemetaries and church yards.

Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemeteries and church yards.

 

We are most familiar with Common Yews being associated with Druid culture found in Ireland and Wales, during the Iron Age Celtic period. During that time the wood was turned into many symbolic and spiritual articles such as wands, and staffs. The wood was also used for divination purposes and at festivals. In the 19th century a cup made of Yew wood was found near a village in North Wales, this item was likely used in Druidic ceremonies.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval  times.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval times.

 

Other places were the Druidic religion likely touches the Common Yew is in their prominent placement in some of the oldest churchyards in Great Britain, Often churches were placed in known sacred places of Druid and other non Cristian groups to help suppress them and usurp the site and ideas related to it. One of the oldest known Taxus baccata is found in a churchyard in North Wales, it is over 4000 years old.

Taxus baccata with it's dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

Taxus baccata with its dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

 

Throughout history the wood of Common Yew has been associated with deadly things. The needles and the flesh of the seeds(arils) is highly poisonous and many people and livestock have died from it. The wood was much used before the use of iron became widespread. It is very hard and resists the effects of water very well. Yew is a tree of death, used for making longbows, coffins, weapon handles and arrow shafts and disturbingly bleeds red sap. The worlds oldest implement, a spearhead is thought to be 50,000 years old and made out of Taxus baccata wood,The famous longbows of the Welsh were made out of Yew and were first recorded in use in 633. More recently it is used for furniture, tool handles and veneer. The wood is golden smooth with a wavy grain.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

 

Taxus baccata has a long association with gardens, official and unofficial because they are easily grown and adaptable to many situations. At many large government buildings this tree is used in one of the most traditional ways, as a clipped hedge in the form of Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ or Irish Yew. Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’  is the form which we come across most often in Victoria as it is narrower in form.

 Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

If you want to grow some Common Yew trees, there are somethings to keep in mind. Plants are male or female, with the females having the red berries. Yews can grow in almost complete shade to full sun but seem to be best with more light than less. They are slower growing than most shrubs and are more expensive because of this. Over many years they can attain heights in excess of 20m(65ft) and can live several thousand years. They like a good soil which nutrient rich, stay away from clay if possible.

 A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

 

Taxus baccata are fairly drought tolerant and withstand air pollution making them an ideal city plant. They are rated as zone 6 meaning they can withstand -20c(-10f) although they might get some wind burn damage on their foliage.If making a hedge space them 40-45cm apart and pinch them back at the time of planting to make them bushy. Remember that this will be a slow-growing hedge. You may want to use one of the narrower forms.

 The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

There are several hundred named varieties which have to propagated by cuttings. Most forms are female and may produce seeds. Look for especially narrow forms such as the dark green ‘Fastigiata’ or golden ‘Fastigiata Aueromarginata’ or the female golden form ‘Standishii’ .Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’ has low spreading branches and ‘Cavendishii’ has wide-spreading branches that droop at the tips.

 This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

Yearning for Yews:

Wiki page on the Common Yew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxus_baccata

The Ancient Yew site:  http://www.ancient-yew.org/home.shtml

Google timeline of Taxus baccata: http://www.google.ca/search?q=taxus+baccata+history&hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:*:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGIE&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=PL_NTO2zEJS8sAOi9_1w&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=11&ved=0CEgQ5wIwCg

….Hoping to see you here soon…..



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