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Kevin Doyle

Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis)

Life history

Species overview

Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in coniferous and mixed woods and wet places, mostly in northern Wisconsin and along Lake Michigan. Blooming occurs April to May; fruiting occurs August though October. The optimal identification period for this species is all year.

Synonyms: Taxus baccata ssp. Canadensis, Taxus baccata var. minor, Taxus minor, Taxus procumbens


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Low, crawling shrub. T. canadensis is the only species in the genus Taxus found in midwest.
  • Flower characteristics: Male cones yellow, solitary in axils and with 4 to 16 sporophylls; female cones reduced, in pairs subtended by pair of scales.
  • Fruit characteristics: Seed flattened, about 5 mm and surrounded by red, fleshy, cup-shaped aril.
  • Leaf characteristics: Evergreen, 1 to 2.5 cm long, arranged spirally on stem, underside of leaf is pale green and dark green to yellow green above.


  • Blooming phenology: April to May
  • Fruiting phenology: August though October
  • Optimum time to identify: all year


  • Growth form: Shrub
  • Vegetative reproduction: Stems may root
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Tsuga canadensis, Acer saccharum, Pinus strobus, Betula alleghaniensis, Fagus grandifolia. Leaves and seeds poisonous to humans, horses and cattle.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis) is on the "watch list." Watch list species have experienced, or are believed to have experienced, a statewide or range wide decline, but they are not currently tracked in the Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) database. The watch list includes newly discovered species for which origin and rarity need to be determined, certain animals designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan, and species that were tracked in the past but proved more abundant, widespread or less vulnerable than previously thought. Although watch list species are not actively tracked by NHI, occurrences documented during surveys are often stored by NHI, as these species could be tracked in the future if there is further evidence of their decline.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS4
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIW

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in coniferous and mixed woods and wet places, mostly in northern Wisconsin and along Lake Michigan.
  • Soils: Well-drained soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Canadian Yew. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Canadian Yew. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes on or near known populations.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.


Canadian Yew  Photo.

Dense Canada yew understory on Devil's Island.

Photo by Christina Isenring, Wisconsin DNR.

Canadian Yew  Photo.

Dense Canada yew understory on Devil's Island.

Photo by Christina Isenring, Wisconsin DNR.

Canadian Yew  Photo.

Canada yew growing along outcrops.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition