Updated: Dec 9, 2020
In the cemetery I think we have examples of both Common or English Yew and Irish Yew. The former is a native evergreen, the latter a mutant first discovered in County Fermanagh in 1780. The needles of the former grow in rows, whilst the latter’s are darker and grow from all around the stem. They obviously have much in common, in particular the fact that they are often to be found in churchyards. They can live a very long time, with some Yews in this country believed to be amongst the oldest plants in Europe, but it is difficult to age them accurately. Some churchyard Yews are thought to be older than the churches themselves, because Yews had important pre-Christian religious significance, but others are believed to have been planted there because the toxicity of nearly all parts of the tree deterred people from grazing animals there. Paradoxically, Yews were used as symbols of immortality, but also seen as omens of doom. The berry-like arils are an important winter food-source for thrushes and small mammals such as squirrels and dormice.
Photo by Neil Griffin