Good And Bad Features Of The Dense Yew
First of all, the Dense Yew is an extremely attractive shrub, one used extensively in landscaping. It is a member of the spreading yew family (Taxus x media), and its botanical name is Taxus x media 'Densiformis', which suggests its dense foliage characteristic. The Dense Yew is an evergreen shrub, generally not exceeding 3' in height, with a spread of between 4' and 7'. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-7, has dark green foliage, and red berries, though the berries are usually not present in any abundance. The Dense Yew prefers partial shade, and will usually do well in deeper shade as well.
The Dwarf Yew is a fast growing shrub, much faster growing than is the case with most yews. While it prefers a well drained soil and needs adequate water to get started, once established, it is very drought tolerant. In fact, if a yew is allowed to suffer from wet feet, it will most likely die fairly quickly. The yew, both spreading and upright varieties, grows in many places in the United States and Canada, but seems to do best in areas having high humidity. The plant also prefers acidic soil. Except for uses in landscaping, yews are not found in much of the interior of the North American continent, but more so in coastal areas.
Other Varieties Of Spreading Yew - Most yews used in landscaping are not regularly pruned, and some are not pruned at all. Some varieties, including the Dense Yew, are at their most attractive when individual branches, and not all of the branches, are pruned back. Spreading yews which closely resemble the Dense Yew, are the Tauton Yew, particularly suited for colder regions, the Runyan Yew, also a very cold hardy shrub, and the Nigra Yew, a striking shrub with foliage that is a very dark green, almost black in appearance. These varieties have a height, 3' to 5', and spread, 4' to 6', similar to the Dense Yew. Another spreading variety is the Hicks Yew, which can grow up to 10' in height and has more of a columnar appearance.
A Toxic Plant, Horses Beware - There is little to be found about the Dwarf Yew that is not good as far as growth habits, appearance, or landscaping potential is concerned. The bad news is that all parts of the yew plant are quite toxic, very toxic in fact. The foliage in particular is especially toxic during the winter months. That may be of little concern to us, who would not think of eating the plant in any event. It's a different story however for horse lovers. The yew is especially toxic to livestock, and it only takes a few ounces, or a few mouthfuls of yew foliage to quickly kill a fully grown horse. Even clippings, inadvertently tossed into a pasture with clippings from other plants, can prove deadly to horses. In too many cases, a horse which is found to have sampled a yew shrub is often found dead before anything can be done. Alkaloids in the plant are concentrated sufficiently to cause the animal's heart to slow down and eventually fail, sometimes within minutes. Of all the plants considered dangerous to horses, the yew always appears at or near the top of the list.
This doesn't mean of course you should never plant a Dense Yew in your yard, only that if you have horses, or there are horses nearby that could get to the shrub, you might give planting a yew a second thought. Out of reach of a horse, or any other potential nibbler, the aesthetic qualities of a Dense Yew are not subject to argument.