ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Ancient Yews, Phoenix Yews

Updated on April 17, 2013

How Old Are Our Yew Trees And Why Are They Called Phoenix Trees?

Ancient Yews occupy a central role in the history and soul of the British Isles. They are an enduring element of the landscape, and their position in myth, legend and ceremony stretches back into to the mists of time, before written records began.

Yew is famed for its great longevity. There are many ancient yew trees in Britain that have been calculated to be between 1000-2000 years old, and some have recently been estimated to be around 5,000 years old.

The true age of an ancient yew is impossible to gauge by normal dendrological methods because the Yew has some unusual growth habits. It is one of the few living things on this planet that manages its own ageing process and is also able to regenerate itself. Thia ability makes ancient yews, worthy of the title: Phoenix Yews.

Ancient Yew at Kelburn Castle [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Encountering Ancient Yews: Approach with Respect And Care

Ancient Yews are most often found in churchyards as great spreading trees, watchful and silent, casting their peaceful shade over the centuries. The oldest of them have somehow escaped the interference of man, and inhabiting some quiet corner, continue to grow on as gnarled and ancient forms, their history stretching back beyond known or recorded time. These are the oldest living forms in the Northern hemisphere.

The Yew Tree in Dartington Hall Gardens

Photo of an ancient yew tree in Dartington Hall Gardens by Judith Green

Views About Ancient Yews Are Varied

The debate surrounding the age of Yew trees, and why they grow where they do is fierce. The arguments put forward range from the scientifically cautious and the archaeologically specific, to insights born of dreams, visions, myth and oral tradition.

These are some of the ancient yews causing a lot of interest...

The Compton Dundon Yew

Photo of the yew tree in St Andrews Church, in the village of Compton Dundon, Somerset, England, by marilyn jane

This link takes you to the website of St Andrews Church, where you can find mention of the yew.

It is one of the yews monitored by the Ancient Yew Group. This link takes you to details of it's current status.

The Ancient Yew Forum

Have you encountered an ancient yew?

See results

The Crowhurst Yew

The Ulcombe yew

The Yew at Wilmington, East Sussex

The Yew tree at Much Marcle Church

A historian's view about ancient yews...

Where Did All The Straight Yew Trees Go?

In England, during the 15th century the long bow was the most important weapon of war. and and a law compelled every man to own a bow and practice archery.

As yew wood was considered the best material for the long bows of the late Middle ages, this law created a demand for yew wood, causing a catastrophic decline in the number of yews trees left growing in England.

As demand outstripped supply, yew wood and yew wood bows were imported from Europe. Such was the demand that yew wood became an official form of currency. Parliament decreed that every ship landing in an English harbour must present at least 4 yew bows per ton of freight .

Hundreds of thousands of bows were imported from the European Continent, which also had to satisfy its own considerable demand for the newly invented long bows. This led to a huge decline of Yew stands in Spain, the Alps, Austria and Bavaria.

There are two theories as to how the ancient yews that survivve today escaped the felling frenzy:

a) It is likely that any remaining trees, both at home and abroad, were not of the quality needed to make the best bows. It is these trees, the less straight and the positively gnarled, that were left, and have since parented the trees we know today.

b) Those trees that still carried strong pagan value to the local community, or were protected by powerful groups within communities remained imune from the axe.

The contribution of Christian parsons to our understanding of ancient yew trees

Stow-on-The-Wold: St Edward's Parish Church photographed by Martyn Gorman [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We owe a huge amount to the country parsons of previous centuries. So much of our knowledge and interest in the natural world stems from the careful observations and ruminations that they recorded whilst taking a break from writing sermons.

Revd. J.G.C. Coplestone is a good example of that lost breed. As the parson of Ofwell parish church in Devon, he was well placed to observe the decline of a great Yew tree that grew within the churchyard.

Both his father and grandfather before him had held the position of Reverend at Offwell, so Copplestones had held the living since at least 1773. All three generations witnessed what seemed to be the final days of a tree beloved and significant to the whole village.

By 1808, the decline was so pronounced that a new Yew saplong was planted nearby as a replacement, and in 1825 the Archdeacon ordered that the church and church yard be improved; the sorry state of the yew no doubt adding to an air of general dilapidation about the place.

J.G.C. Coplestone was deeply concerned that the yew be protected, and went to great lengths to protect the roots of the tree during the structural improvements and earth moving. A large amount of displaced earth ended up being mounded around the base of the tree, and although this is something that today we know to be injurious to many trees, something quite miraculous happened over the next few years.

The yew tree began to recover, and J.G.C. Coplestone recorded its self resurection in notes and a poem. That poem, wtitten in the early part of the 19th century is part of the recorded information about yews that is helping experts today to preserve and protect ancient yews.

The Decayed but Reviving Churchyard Yew..

"Yet thou giv'st hope

Dear venerated tree, when pleas'd I doat

Upon thy recent growth. I hail thee still

An emblem, in thy scath'd and leafless head

Of man's mortality; I hail thee more

As pointing, in thy renovated boughs

And new clad shell, to man's awaited change

From vile to glorious. Thou wast shrunken, dead,

But art alive again."

Ancient Yew Group

Photo by martin

Who's Right About Ancient Yews?

Who will you be more inclined to listen to?

See results

Yew Berries Are Tempting But Deadly; Do Not Eat

Photo by dmott

Medicinal Properties of Yew

A Drug for Cancer is made from the green leaves: Yew clippings are collected by two companies for the production of a drug used in cancer treatment. They will supply large sacks for collection, and pay a small sum for each sack. This does not mean that it is suitable for self treatment, as the plant is extremely toxic, causes death, and at present there is no antidote.

By Simon Garbutt. SiGarb 20:02, 4 December 2006 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Walk peacefully amonst the yews

Where to find the churchyard yews on this lens

Stow-on-The-Wold: uk:
Stow-on-The-Wold: uk

get directions

much marcle uk:
much marcle uk

get directions

Wilmington uk:
Wilmington uk

get directions

ulcombe uk:
ulcombe uk

get directions

Crowhurst uk:
Crowhurst uk

get directions

offwell devon:
offwell devon

get directions

Photo by nb360

I'd love to Hear of Any Really Old or Special Yews That You Have Encountered

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      5 years ago from New Jersey

      I always found them to be magnificent trees when we lived in England. Thanks for sharing this great lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi, nice informative read. We cut and/or collect yew hedge clippings for Limehurst.

      We are always looking for new or old customers please feel free to email us via

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      We have a lovely Yew tree in our front garden. Our home is in Upper Saxondale near Nottingham which used to be an old mental hospital. The woodland grounds contain a wide diversity of old and interesting trees. This lens is very informative.

    • Natalie W Schorr profile image

      Natalie W Schorr 

      6 years ago

      Simply gorgeous!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 

      6 years ago from UK

      A great exposition on this fabulous tree. You have missed out one property I must mention, I live close to Packwood House (NT) which has a wonderful topiary garden, and we visit regularly. Can't resist leaving a blessing.

    • BlueStarling profile image


      7 years ago

      Terrific photos, and I love Yews -- they're really very tough and provide such a beautiful deep green in winter. Nice lens!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      Very informative but oh those pictures!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I came back again to read this wonderful lens and admire the photos. Blessed by an Angel.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting and very beautiful lens! I like it very much!

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image


      8 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

    • delia-delia profile image


      8 years ago

      What a great lens on a great tree! I didn't know the needles where poisonous...I see the birds lately feeding off the red berries on my Yew bush...

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 

      8 years ago from USA

      This is a valuable source of information for those who wish to grow this incredible plant. I've always thought the yews were special, but never really knew about the yew until I read this page.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have never personally seen a yew tree that I know of. This is an awesome lens. Your pictures are really beautiful. Good job.

    • greenspirit profile imageAUTHOR

      poppy mercer 

      8 years ago from London

      @WhiteOak50: Thanks White Oak. To sit under one of these old beings is like nothing else. Things feel very still and deep and quiet.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image


      8 years ago

      I love Yew trees! I read once that they are considered some of the wisest elder trees. I have never seen one in person, but would love to. You have some fantastic pictures posted on this lens. Good Job!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hello, yew! Lovely lens - the yew is a fascinating tree, especially with its connections to churchyards and longbows. Angel blessed :-)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)