taxus-brevifoliaCommon name: Pacific yew

Scientific name: Taxus brevifolia

Native American names:  ‘Bow plant’ (Haida and Halq’emeylem), ‘wedge plant’ (Sechelt, Squamish, and Nee-chah-nulth)[1]*. Other names [Tribe (native word)]: Chehalis (k’la-‘mk’l), Cowlitz (wawani’nc), Klallam (klinka’ltc), Quinault (k’lam’ma’aq), Samish (tlinka’ltc), Swinomish (ts’xubi’dats).[2]

Plant family: Taxaceae

Description: Evergreen shrub or small tree, 2-15m high; branches droop; trunk twisted or fluted; bark reddish, papery, scaly to shreddy. Leaves flat, 2-3 cm long, dull green above, striped with stomata below, acuminate tips (ending in fine point). Two rows of flat splays. Fruit Dioecious (male and female cones on separate trees), single bony seed surrounded by a bright red fleshy cup.Warning: fruit is poisonous to humans.[1]

Habitat and range: Moist mature forest, commonly found with Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock in old growth forest as understory tree.[1]  USA (AK, CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA), CAN (AB, BC)[3]

Historical and contemporary uses: Tools The hard, durable wood of the yew was used by many coastal groups for a variety of purposes and is often traded to the interior tribes. Tools that are made from yew: bows, wedges, clubs, paddles, digging sticks, adze handles, harpoon shafts, spears, mat-sewing needles, awls, dip-net frames, knives, dishes, spoons, boxes, combs, snowshoe frames, bark scrapers, fire tongs, weaving implements, and drum frames.[1]  Gitga’at use yew wood blocks in processing seaweed.[4]  Medicine The Saanish and Salish groups smoked a mixture of dried needles with kinnikinnick. New anti-cancer property was recently found in the bark [1] but a synthetic has recently been derived.[5]

 *Native plant names often refer to specific uses of the plant whereas Latin names and western names tend to describe physical attributes of the plant.

[1] Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon eds. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, BC: Lone Pine.

[2] Gunther, Erma. 1973. Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants   by Native Americans. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

[3] NRCS: USDA: PLANTS Profile Taxus brevifolia Accessed October 2011

[4] Turner, N.J., and Helen Clifton. 2001. Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management.

[5] Board of Educ. v. American Bioscience, 333 F. 3d 1330 – Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit 2003.