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Japanese yew

Dark green shiny needles of Japanese yew

Japanese yews are a popular and versatile evergreen shrub. They make a good foundation or accent plant and dark green leaves make good background for colorful shrubs and perennials. There are numerous cultivars available, varying greatly in size, so choose carefully to find the right one for your site. Be aware that the leaves, seeds, and bark of yews are poisonous. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Taxus cuspidata

All common names:

Japanese yew

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree


  • Evergreen (foliage year-round)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Foundation,
  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • medium tree (25-40 feet),
  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Occasional drought

Seasons of Interest:

  • midwinter,
  • late winter,
  • early spring

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous,
  • Yellow

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Irregular,
  • Pyramidal,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

More Information:

Size and form

Plants range from 40 feet high trees to 10 feet high shrubs.
Habit is erect to broadly narrow to wide-spreading, depending upon the cultivar.

Tree & Plant Care

Yews grow in full sun to dense shade, but best with some shade to provide winter protection from strong winds.
Prefer moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Yews will not tolerate wet soil. 
Shallow roots benefit with a layer of mulch to moderate soil temperatures and conserve moisture.
Water well in fall before the ground freezes.

Disease, pests, and problems

More tolerant of windy sites than other yews, but drying winds and reflecting sun can cause desiccation and winter browning.
Root rots in wet soil conditions.
Black vine weevil and scale can be a problem on stressed plants.
Deer can be a problem.

Native geographic location and habitat

Japan, Korea, China

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Cardinal, waxwing, thrushes and many other birds are attracted to the plant’s fruit and use the plant as a nesting site and shelter.

Bark color and texture 

Older plants have reddish-brown bark, exfoliating in patches.
The leaves, bark, and seeds of all yew are poisonous.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Short-stalked, 1-inch long, glossy, dark green leaves.
The leaves of all yew are poisonous.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious, male flowers are tiny, globose strobli in axils of leaves.
Female strobili (cone-like) solitary, green in leaf axils

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fleshy red fruit (arils) resemble berries, ripening in August-November

CAUTION: The leaves, bark, and seeds of all yew are poisonous.

Cultivars and their differences 

Captain yew (Taxus cuspidata 'Fastigiata'): 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 5 feet wide ; pyramidal shape; grows larger and more open if left unpruned.

Upright yew (Taxus cuspidata 'Capitata'):  25 to 30 feet high; the only tree form of Japanese yew tree; dark green leaves




Location of Taxus cuspidata (Japanese yew) at the Arboretum