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Thursday - February 28, 2008

From: Buffalo, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Viability of Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew) for Buffalo, NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Buffalo, N.Y. and am gradually naturalizing my back yard. The previous owner built a 6' fence along the western edge of the yard and planted a straight line of arborvitae, which are now about 7' tall. To break up the uniform row of arbors, I was planning to plant one or two small coniferous shrubs. This section of the yard is open even in summer but does not get sun in the evenings because of the fence. It has tended to develop clover-type weeds. The soil is generally moist but drier in summer, and is composed of several inches of glacial silt above black clay. I am planning to sow little bluestem and Indian grass seeds in this part of the yard this fall. Is there a native conifer shrub that would meet these requirements? I was looking at taxus canadensis, but it appears to require sandier soil than what we have.


Taxus canadensis (Canada yew) is a native of North America, and this USDA Plant Profile shows it growing naturally in New York State. It is a woodland understory plant, thriving in anything from a sunny woodland edge to deep shade. It will grow well in almost any soil, acid or alkaline, as long as it is well-drained. If we understand your description correctly, you have several inches of sand (glacial silt), which drains very well, over black clay, which is not the greatest on drainage. However, with attention to that fact, we see no reason why your soil would not suit the plant. You would just need to be aware of the need for drainage when you site the plant, and never allow water to stand over the roots for any period of time.

One concern about the use of any of the yews is that all species of yew contain highly poisonous alkaloids known as taxanes. All parts of the plant are toxic except the flesh of the fruit; however, the seed in the fruit is dangerously poisonous. If there are children or pets that could come in contact with the shrubs, you might want to reconsider your choice. We went to our Native Plant Database, and used the "Combination Search" for New York, shrubs, perennial, shade to part shade, and moist soil as desired traits. This gave us 103 choices, the hard part of which was finding shrubs that are evergreen or semi-evergreen in New York, as well as non-poisonous. If you are interested, you can put in requirements of your own in the Combination Search, and find other possibilities.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)

Morella pensylvanica (northern bayberry)

Vaccinium stamineum (deerberry)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Gaultheria procumbens

Morella pensylvanica

Vaccinium stamineum



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