Impurest's Guide to (not) Animals #171 - European Yew

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

Edited By ImpurestCheese

Snow!! Snow in the southern UK in late April, when will summer finally turn up?! Hopefully very soon, and in that vein I’d like to wish everyone a happy Arbour Day! I’m pretty sure last week’s issue, the cruel Carnotaurus cares not one iota for trees unlike me and hopefully yew. Wait Yew? Yep we’re off the beaten track with an Impurest’s Guide to Not Animals. Hope you all enjoy.

_________________________________________________________________

Issue #171 - European Yew

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Plantae

Division – Pinophyta

Class – Pinopsida

Order – Pinales

Family – Taxaceae

Genus – Taxus

Species – baccata

Related Species - The European Yew is one of over twenty species in the genus Taxus (1).

Range - The native range of the European Yew covers the majority of Europe, Northwest Africa, Southern Asia and parts of Iran.

The Graveyard Tree

The European Yew is a medium sized evergreen tree that grows to an adult height of 10 to 20m in height, and can easily be recognised by the flaky brown bark and the bright red berries it produces in autumn. The leaves of this tree are flattened soft needle like structures that are dark green in colouration and are anywhere between 1 to 4cm in length. Relatively slow growing, the European Yew is hard to age due to its boughs and trunk hollowing with age, thus making ring counts impossible to accomplish in mature trees (2). That being said, an average lifespan of 400-600 years seems like a reasonable estimate, although there are many specimens that are potentially far older then this estimate, with the oldest specimen the Fortingall Yew from Fortingall, Perthshire in Scotland, being estimated at being over 2000 years old.

The flowers of the female Yew Tree [2]
The flowers of the female Yew Tree [2]

Yew trees, unlike the vast majority of plants, are dioecious and have defined genders in regards to their flowers. Male flowers are small pale green orb like structures, while those of female plants resemble small scaly buds (3). Only male Yew trees produce pollen, which is dispersed on the wind to the flowers found on female trees. From there the female tree produces bright red berry like structures known as arils, unlike many other conifers which produce cones, which are consumed and dispersed by birds.

[3]
[3]

The European Yew tree is a plant steeped in myth and folklore across Europe, featuring in Norse, Gallic, Germanic and Pre Christian British mythology, and would later play a big part in Christian iconography. Due to their toxicity, it was believed that Yew trees were deliberately planted in burial grounds to deter farmers and drovers from letting their animals graze in these sacred spaces. The Yew was also adopted by Christianity as a symbol of transcendence over death, and was commonly planted in graveyards. There is even some suggestions that Yggdrasil of Norse Mythologhy may not be an Ash Tree (Fraxus excelsior) but rather a Yew Tree from the translation of words related to it, such as barraskar and vetgrønster vida as ‘needle ash’ and ‘forever green tree’ respectively, names that support the World Tree being a Yew and not an Ash.

Terrors of Toxicology #6 - Taxine

[4]
[4]

An old man hangs from a European Yew Tree for a week, never moving yet alive, before finally overcoming his lethargically and moving. Said old man is Odin, and the tree is Yggdrasil, and is likely a reaction to the alkaloid Taxine, a chemical that, on warm days is exuded from the bark of tree and causes, among other things hallucinations and a lethargic state. This reaction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Yew Tree, all parts with the exception of the aril are toxic, both in living specimens and dead wood. The poison is so potent that, during Ceaser’s invasion of Gaul, defeated chieftains would commit ritual suicide by chewing yew leaves rather then be taken prisoner, with only around 50g of material required to kill a healthy adult human.

Taxine is an alkaloid compound featuring a number of toxic compounds, all of whom attack the core cardiac and respiratory muscles by increasing the flow of ions through the calcium channels in the cardiac cells, effectively causing the heart to beat irregularly before eventually stalling it altogether (4). As mentioned above almost all parts of the European Yew are toxic, and even shavings of the bark accidently inhaled are enough to cause convulsions, as is contact with leaves that have dried up and smoke from wood gathered from trees many months previously.

For all its toxicity, mankind has long realised the danger this tree possess and as such deaths, despite no anti-toxin being available, are quite rare. In fact the compound Paclitaxel (5) found within the Taxine alkaloid may even save your life due to its ability to combat certain cancers when used in chemotherapy by binding to the compound Tubulin, the compound that when unbalanced causes rapid cell division. While first extracted from the bark of the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia), the European Yew’s more resistant nature towards harvesting provides a far more reliable source of this chemical, since unlike its American relative, the tree doesn’t need to be killed to obtain the bark and timber.

Bibliography

1 -www.arkive.org

2 - Kinmonth, F. (2006). Ageing the yew – no core, no curve? International Dendrology Society Yearbook 2005: 41–46.

3 - https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/yew/

4 - G. Barceloux, Donald (2008). Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals. p. 900

5 - https://www.drugs.com/monograph/paclitaxel.html

Picture References

1 - https://bigrab.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/000_0012.jpg

2 - http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/assets/0603/0000/0109/yew007_mid.jpg

3 -

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/credit/640x395/t/ta/taxus_baccata/taxus_baccata_1.jpg

4 - https://ofthegoodtree.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/odintree.jpg?w=665

So it seems what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. Next week we have an issue that is infernal and vampire in nature, but until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary

Happy Arbour Day

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another toxic creature, click here to see the dastardly Common Kingslayer. Or for more folklore, click here to bound along with the boxing Brown Hare.

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

Avatar image for amendment50
Amendment50

16257

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 1

Well this was an unexpected twist. And I didn't even know it was Arbor day.

...Actually it's not Arbor day, not for me anyway.

Also there will be no more dinosaur issues unfortunately due to a certain user trying to disprove everything I wrote and lure me into a debate I didn't want to have.

aww, yer killing me Impurest.

Avatar image for mrmonster
mrmonster

17579

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#3 mrmonster  Online

Nice change of pace.

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

@amendment50: Technically it is tomorrow, but I'm up early tomorrow and won't be back home until late so I got it done today. It's also not Arbour Day in the UK either, but it seemed like a fun thing to do.

Sorry for that, blame it on the person who keeps trying to rebut everything I said last week, and me not having the offensiveness, time or energy to fight them on this.

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

Avatar image for icedemonking
IceDemonKing

10050

Forum Posts

1569

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Cool I'll give it an in depth read later. Happy arbor day whenever that is.

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

Avatar image for amazing_webhead
amazing_webhead

10094

Forum Posts

1019

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 13

User Lists: 17

it's still the 27th here, but happy Arbor Day to you too

Avatar image for deactivated-5b5405244e89c
deactivated-5b5405244e89c

8376

Forum Posts

1816

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 6

Thanks for the early Arbor day present ^0^

Nice read.

Avatar image for emperor339
Emperor339

2488

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

East Midlands UK here and it's been hailing for the past two days.

I also wish for Summer to arrive. It barely feels like Spring has even started.

Avatar image for green_tea
Green_Tea

10747

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Thanks for reminding me of Arbour Day lol.

Avatar image for heroup2112
HeroUp2112

18401

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Happy Arbour Day...pretty cool!

Avatar image for pipxeroth
Pipxeroth

9862

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Huh, never knew I'd enjoy reading about trees so much.

Avatar image for wollfmyth209
WollfMyth209

17552

Forum Posts

3513

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 1

An interesting twist for Arbour day... Also, awesome. :up:

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

@emperor339: Yep, speaking as an ecologist (in West Sussex) who works outdoors, this seasonal weather is throwing off the schedules of animals like dormice and reptiles that are just comming out of hibernation

@bella_blackstar: No Problem, who knows maybe issues on plants and fungi will become a common place thing

@amazing_webhead: @solid_snake97: @heroup2112: And to all of you! Thanks for the comment guys.

@pipxeroth: Despite appearing quite passive to human eyes, plants are quite interesting with all their many tricks and toxins

@wollfmyth209: Thanks, always looking for chances to bring something different to the blog :-)

Avatar image for black_wreath
black_wreath

13557

Forum Posts

171

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 109

I did not expect this entry to be very interesting, yet it was.

Thank yew for broadening my mind. ^_^

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

#17  Edited By ImpurestCheese

@black_wreath: Yew are certainly most welcome. Thanks for the comment, it means a lot since I was worrying how interesting trees would be

Avatar image for spareheadone
SpareHeadOne

7726

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

You sucked me in with all the mythic world tree stuff. Thanks I really enjoyed it.

Would taxine help Odin (anyone) survive a spear wound? Ie slowing blood flow?

Avatar image for ficopedia
FicOPedia

2225

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 222

@impurestcheese: If you twist the name a bit when you say it, it sounds like, "yer a-peein'- ew!" :}

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

@spareheadone: Taxine probably wouldn't help, mostly because it's attacking other parts of the body as well and generally doing more harm than good. Thanks for the comment though, glad you enjoyed the culture/mythology part of this issue

@ficopedia: Why I oughttta...Thanks for the comment

Avatar image for deactivated-097092725
deactivated-097092725

10555

Forum Posts

1043

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 4

I didn't expect this, haha, how brilliant! Very cool learning about this tree and nice match up with it having been Arbour Day when you posted. You are amazing, by the way. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Avatar image for impurestcheese
ImpurestCheese

12542

Forum Posts

2824

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 14

@ms-lola: No problem, thanks for commenting. And what can I say, the word 'Machiavellian' has been used to describe my mind more than once