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Japanese Plum-Yew (Cephalotaxus)

Plum Yew 'Korean Gold'
Plum-Yew ‘Korean Gold’

Many people are familiar with Yews, as they are great evergreens with a soft texture and ease of culture, especially when it comes to perfectionist trimming. Although they are similar in appearance, however, Plum-Yews and Yews are not closely related, but still can be used in similar growing conditions. From sun to shade, they are quite adaptable and once established are tolerant of both drier and wetter conditions than Yews survive, though still need decent drainage.

As plantsman Michael Dirr says, Plum Yews will thrive “under climactic conditions that would doom [Yews].” The other major benefit, though, is their unpalatability to deer, which is certainly a major issue our area. Their name comes from the appearance of the needles (Yew-like, though longer) and the fruit, which can be a plum-colored berry if they get pollinated. Although I have yet to ever see fruit on a Plum-Yew, I do see plants in various locations where they make nice evergreen foundation plantings and mixed-bed accents.

Their deep, dark green needles make for a nice backdrop for “see-through” flowering plants like Japanese Anemone, Bugbane, Yucca and False-Yucca. As with many of my other gardening preferences, I like to combine foliage so I don’t have to worry about out-of-season flowers. Plum-Yew foliage would mix well with the bold leaves of a variegated Hydrangea, the golden leaves of ‘Little Honey’ Oakleaf Hydrangea, the changing colors of a dwarf Nandina, the brilliant yellow splashes of Aucuba or any number of perennials such as ferns and grasses.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 4

by Miri Talabac, Behnke’s Woody Plants Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Questions: How tall does the plumb yew grow? Also, is the bottom picture of several plum yews? The shape and color look different than the first picture. Thank you.

  2. Hi Donna,

    There are several varieties of Japanese Plum Yew, so heights vary. Generally, the low-growers stay about 2-4′ tall and the upright varieties 6-10′ tall. The top picture is of an uncommon variety of upright Plum Yew named ‘Korean Gold’ while the bottom picture is of several plants of the variety ‘Drupacea’, which grows taller than most “low-growing” types at about 6′ tall or more. Like their Yew cousins, Plum Yews can be maintained smaller than their mature size with trimming, though it’s best to pick a variety that stays closest to the height you prefer so pruning is minimal.

    Miri Talabac
    Woody Plants Buyer
    Behnke Nurseries

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