A conifer whose distribution has greatly decreased during the past centuries; today it is protected by law in most countries. In the Middle Ages
, its wood was widely used to make bows, and, later, costly furniture, and so, with its slow rate of growth, the yew slowly disappeared from the forests. It is now found in broad-leaved woods from England
, eastwards to the western Himalayas
to North Africa
. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 of these trees in Germany
. In France
it is most abundant in the Vosges
and the foothills of the Alps
and in Great Britain
it can be found from southern England to Scotland
and in Ireland
The common yew can attain a height up to 20 metres, but often it remains only a shrub. It grows very slowly, but may live to the age of a thousand years. It is distinguished by its reddish bark, dark leaves and bright red fruits. The leaves are generally two-ranked, and the inconspicuous flowers, borne on the underside of the twigs, bloom in March. The yew is a dioecious species, and the scarlet, fleshy fruits, which mature in late September and are favourite food of birds, are borne only on female trees. Today the yew is widely cultivated in parks as an ornamental, including its yellow-variegated and pyramidal form.
English villages were required to keep special yew tree stumps; the stump sprouts wold be used for bows (as well as the wattle in wattle-and daub).