Canada Yew

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Canada Yew
Canada yew
Figure 1: Canada yew foliage and false-fruit. Photo by Erich Haber, National Botanical Institute.










Canada yew is an important resource for producing certain cancer-fighting drugs. Ontario is working to ensure a sustainable and affordable supply for future generations.

A forest plant once of little commercial interest, Canada yew is now prized by the pharmaceutical industry because it can be used to produce drugs that fight certain cancers. This development has created a demand for harvesting parts of this shrub on both public and private lands in Ontario.


This report provides private landowners and the general public with information about the state of Canada yew in Ontario, the factors affecting it and how it is being managed.



What Is Canada Yew?


Canada yew (also called eastern yew or ground hemlock) is a coniferous shrub that ranges in size from a few centimetres to over three metres, although most plants grow to one to two metres high and wide.


It can be identified by its reddish-brown bark and flat needles. Bright red false-fruit (easily mistaken for berries) are present from June to September (Figure 1).


In Ontario, Canada yew usually grows in mature forests (Figure 2) and is found primarily around the Great Lakes and in the northeast and central parts of the province.


Canada yew shrubs
Figure 2: Canada yew shrubs in Ontario's forests. Photo by John A. Johnson, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

More information on the ecology and identification of Canada yew can be found in the Autecology of Canada Yew (see the Information Sources section).



Ecological and Economic Value of Canada Yew

Canada yew is important for wildlife. Hardwood forests with yew tend to have a greater diversity of small mammals than forests without yew. Deer and moose eat yew, especially during spring and fall. Songbirds often feed on the red false-fruits of the yew when they ripen during summer.


Commercial nurseries sell varieties of Canada yew as ornamental shrubs for domestic landscaping.


More recently, Canada yew has become highly valued by the pharmaceutical industry for its medicinal qualities, and it is currently being used to produce drugs that fight ovarian, breast and non-small cell lung cancers.


Canada yew is very poisonous! Canada yew is highly toxic to humans. Anyone consuming this plant is likely to become very ill or die. If someone has eaten this plant, contact the Ontario Regional Poison Information Centre immediately at 1-800-268-9017 or 416-813-5900, open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

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This report is also available as a PDF.



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