Taxus canadensis (Canada Yew)

Plant Info
Also known as: American Yew, Ground Hemlock
Family:Taxaceae (Yew)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist, cool soil; rich woods, hardwood and conifer forests, swamps, ravines, banks
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:1 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, both about 1/8 inch long, borne singly in the leaf axils usually on different branches of the same plant, occasionally on separate plants. Male strobili are numerous, oval-elliptic, the cone scales yellowish, the pollen sacs initially creamy colored, turning tan.

[photo of female strobili] Female strobili are more bud-like and less numerous than male strobili, with brown to greenish egg-shaped scales.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are evergreen, needle-like with a minute sharp point at the tip (mucronate), single, flattened, 3/8 to about 1 inch long, dark green on the upper surface, the lower surface paler with a prominent green midvein and appearing striped. Needles are arranged in a spiral around the twig but those on top and underneath the twig twist so that needles appear to be mostly lateral, giving the branch a flattened appearance.

[photo of branches] Twigs are mostly alternate, hairless, green to yellowish when young, becoming brown to reddish-brown the second year. Older bark is thin and scaly. Plants lack a central stem, the trunks branched from the base, the branches mostly widely spreading but rising at the tips, sometimes ascending, rarely erect. Branches root where they touch the ground and dense colonies may form.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a cup-shaped, berry-like cone called an aril, up to 3/8 inch long, maturing to bright red, open at the top exposing the single seed.

[photo of seeds] Seeds are 4 to 5 mm long, oval to egg-shaped with a pointed tip, slightly flattened, dark brown with a textured surface.


Canada Yew is an evergreen, understory shrub of forested swamps, cool ravines and talus slopes and reaches the western edge of its US range in Minnesota. It is highly shade-tolerant and may form large, clonal mats. Once common across its range, the species has been in decline primarily due to predation by over-abundant deer populations. Other factors, including harvesting for cancer drugs and climate change, increase the risk of local extirpations. It is easily recognizable by the sprawling growth, flat needles with pointed tips that are arranged to appear lateral on the branch, and the bright red, cup-shaped fruit. A seedling may resemble Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), which also has flat needles but they are blunt-tipped where Canada Yew needles are sharply pointed. It is the only member of the Taxaceae family in Minnesota, though there are exotic yews available in the nursery trade, some of which may escape cultivation but none have been known to naturalize in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota and Lake counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: David - Linwood township
on: 2018-07-21 15:18:47

Lawn maintenance people trimmed the yew and badly overdid it. Cutaway too much green branches. Will it regenerate?

Posted by: Gary - Lake County
on: 2018-09-15 08:41:47

Found many large Canada yews (4 to 5 feet tall and 10 or more feet wide) in what appears to be an old growth upland forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, and white cedar. Usually, when I find this plant it is small and low to the ground and in white cedar swamps.

Posted by: Jean Clark - Itasca county
on: 2019-11-01 15:14:27

This plant was spotted by a friend who was walking the woods east and slightly south of my homestead.

Posted by: Karen Schik - Hastings
on: 2019-11-14 10:48:38

At Vermillion Falls Park along the river in limestone boulders.

Posted by: Allan Meadows - Koochiching County
on: 2020-05-20 08:24:29

Found in mature white cedars, west side of Fiero Truck Trail, Pine Island State Forest, NW of Big Falls.

Posted by: Carmen Jordan - La Crescent
on: 2021-04-19 00:47:50

Are Canadian Yews a host plant for any insects or pollinators?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-04-19 09:57:29

Carmen, as far as we know, yews are not associated with many (any?) beneficial insects.

Posted by: Susan Premo - Lake county
on: 2021-07-06 17:20:04

Found this today, July 6th, 2021, in a dispersed campground, hogback. Pretty, short, spreading out along the ground. No fruit yet. Hope to be here when it does.

Posted by: Sherman - in Duluth in low woods around Chester Creek
on: 2022-05-04 19:29:00

Around 1989 across the street and south of my house, while exploring the lowland woods around Chester Creek, I saw three or four sprawling Canada Yews. I had never seen Yews in other woods. In front of my uncle's house in Duluth there were Japanese Yews which are neater looking. Over the years the deer population rose. Soon those Canada Yews in the nearby woods disappeared entirely. The deer didn't.

Posted by: gary - Cook County
on: 2022-07-30 18:35:48

Saw a few small Canada Yew plants today by the Onion River.

Posted by: Bill - Wadena MN
on: 2022-12-30 14:35:14

I have planted specimens in my yard along with eastern hemlocks.

Posted by: Mary Carter - Wright County
on: 2023-06-17 20:53:40

Wanting to purchase a yew. Think this will be a perfect choice for the location. Can not find a local source for them. Please advise.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-06-18 06:23:41

Mary, Minnesota Wildflowers does not track who sells what so ask around native plant nurseries, many of which offer mail order service.

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