Here in the gardens we have recently had tree surgeons come and reduce the crown of the Yew tree in Latham by around 20%. We continue to notice and appreciate this plant throughout the gardens and we have many beautiful examples growing at Wychfield. The extent to which this tree is able to sprout and regenerate is truly amazing. It is an evergreen providing shade and interest all year round, with the most attractive dark timber and deep green foliage. You may well be wondering how do ‘Snotty-gogs’ fit into all of this, well… this is an often used children’s term for the berries of a Yew tree. Through autumn and winter you may have seen these sticky pinkish red berries furnishing the outside of your car at Wychfield, the flesh being edible but the seeds being poisonous and easily dispersed by hungry birds.
The Yew tree is steeped in history and folklore, and most people are familiar with the sight of Yew trees in churchyards especially. The difficulty is in pinpointing why and when these majestic trees were planted in their specific locations, as amazingly enough after around 400 years of growth Yew trees lose their heartwood, and therefore make ring dating impossible. They are also said to go through periods of very little or reduced growth during older age which makes even girth measurements speculative. Some people look to Christian funeral traditions, other say that these religious relics are from pagan times, and other further still into Celtic and pre-Celtic history. The conclusions are unclear. What is clear however is the endless affinity between people and Yew trees, and the impact they continue to have on our lives today.
We certainly can be thankful to Yews for their amazing medicinal qualities. The foliage may be poisonous to animals, but the foliage of Yews also contains a chemical that has actually been refined for use as a cancer fighting drug. Taxol is an alkaloid extracted from Yews and used in order to treat ovarian, breast and lung cancers. Plants truly are amazing in both their endurance and their chemical abilities. Please take the time to look at the cancer awareness events being held in College and around Cambridge.