Given increased interest in harvesting Canada yew, the Ministry of Natural Resources wants landowners to be aware of the following information on this shrub and its uses.
Is Canada yew growing on your property?
Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), also known as ground hemlock, grows in the eastern woodlands of Canada , including much of Ontario.
A wide-spreading evergreen shrub, Canada yew generally grows to one metre in height, but can reach two metres on better sites. Canada yew can be identified by its reddish-brown bark and flat, green needles that may be accompanied by bright red berries, or arils. Arils, which are fleshy seed coverings, measure about one centimetre in diameter and are present from June to September.
Canada yew should not be confused with plant species that resemble it, such as balsam fir (Abies balsamea) or young hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis).
Caution - Canada yew is poisonous if ingested
Canada yew is highly toxic to humans and livestock. Death is very likely if the plant is consumed. Taxanes, the chemicals within Canada yew that contribute to its toxicity, have no therapeutic value at the concentrations found in the foliage.
For more information about the toxicology of Canada yew, please contact your local medical health office.
Importance of Canada yew
Canada yew plays an important role in Ontario’s forests. It provides shade and cover for other flora and fauna, and is an important food source for deer and moose. The complete or partial removal of Canada yew plants could negatively affect forest ecosystems and the environment.
Pharmaceutical companies extract taxanes from Canada yew and further refine them into a drug used to treat certain forms of cancer. Recently, this has resulted in greater interest in harvesting Canada yew from Ontario and other parts of eastern Canada.
Collecting Canada yew boughs can be done in a manner that is not harmful to the plant or the surrounding environment. However, Canada yew is very susceptible to long-term damage and even mortality if harvesting is not conducted properly.
Ongoing research conducted by the Canadian Forest Service suggests that only the last three years of growth should be removed from a Canada yew shrub - using hand pruners - and that every fifth stem should be left unpruned. This should enable harvesting to occur on the same plant every four years.
Studies show that pruning branches beyond three years’ growth could be detrimental to the plant, which can take as much as a decade or more to recover. Removing two thirds of the plant, or more, can result in its mortality.
Are you having Canada yew harvested from your property?
If you are considering having a contractor harvest Canada yew from your property, you should consider the following guidelines:
- Have contractual arrangements in place with the contractor prior to harvesting. You may wish to seek advice from a lawyer.
- Specify within the contract such conditions as location, harvesting criteria, payment schedules and rates, and time of operations.
- Ensure that the boundaries of areas to be harvested are identified and are clearly marked and agreed to before operations commence.
- Have contractors provide references of the owners of properties where they have previously operated. This will allow you to determine landowners’ satisfaction with the operator, especially with regard to compliance with conditions in the contract and timely receipt of accurate payment.
- Observe harvesting operations and arrange for daily signed invoices stating the amount owing for volumes harvested.
Are you planning to harvest Canada yew from your land yourself?
Make sure that you have a buyer for Canada yew prior to harvesting it. In order to satisfy audit requirements and purchasing standards, you should determine in advance the information buyers may require, such as harvest location and dates, land ownership and handling guidelines. Most reputable companies will require Canada yew to be harvested in accordance with provincial guidelines.
Reporting illegal activities
Canada yew has been stolen from private land in some jurisdictions. Affected landowners are asked to contact local police.
Additional information about Canada yew
Canada yew contains flammable oils that could spread fires quickly throughout a forest when fire hazard conditions are moderate to high. Contact your local municipal authority and Ministry of Natural Resources office to determine the types of fire precautions and equipment that may be required during Canada yew harvesting operations.
Studies suggest that Canada yew will grow well as an agricultural crop in Ontario . However, it can take from five to seven years before a shrub is ready for harvest.
For more information
Please contact your local Ministry of Natural Resources office (call 1-800-667-1940 to determine the office nearest you)
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