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The English yew tree looks heavier and more durable than many softwoods. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s hardwood.
The English yew is actually not a hardwood tree. Hardwood trees are angiosperms, a class of flowering plants. On the other hand, the English yew tree is classed as a softwood since it is a conifer in the gymnosperm family.
In the rest of this article, I will go over how we can adequately determine which wood type the English yew tree belongs to. I will also identify what different individuals can utilize their wood.
What Kind of Wood is an English Yew Tree?
An English yew tree is a softwood because it is a gymnosperm rather than an angiosperm. Although it may not share most of the same characteristics as other softwoods, English yew is flexible and comes from an evergreen tree. Most evergreens are softwoods, which is another reason English yew is a softwood.
Why Are English Yew Trees Considered Softwood?
English yew (also known as Taxus Baccata) is a softwood. However, it also has many characteristics similar to hardwood trees. Given this fact, it’s important to understand why English yew trees are softwoods rather than hardwoods – so let’s take a closer look at the main reasons below.
The English Yew Tree is a Gymnosperm
“Gymnosperm” is a term of ancient Greek origin, meaning “naked seeds” from the root word gymno, which means “naked.” Unlike angiosperms, gymnosperms have their seeds exposed and unprotected without any cover.
Gymnosperms are usually evergreen trees to which Cycads, Ginkgo trees, and pines (conifers) — which make up the majority of gymnosperms — belong. Other observable features include scale-like or needle-like leaves (source), which are less dense than hardwoods, making them easier to cut with an axe.
All gymnosperm trees (including English yews) produce seeds that are cone-borne and are not visible until maturity (source).
All gymnosperm trees are considered softwood, which is the main reason English yew is considered softwood. These trees are considered softwoods because they don’t have the thick-walled xylem vessels that their angiosperm counterparts have (source).
English Yew Wood is More Flexible than Hardwoods
One of the big differences between hard and softwood is their flexibility. Hardwoods tend to be less flexible than softwoods, and English yew happens to be highly flexible and easy to work with.
Because of its high levels of flexibility (and the fact that it comes from a gymnosperm tree), English yew is considered softwood.
Why Are English Yew Trees Sometimes Mistaken for Hardwood?
There’s no question that English yew trees are often mistaken for hardwood, which is why many people become confused about how to categorize this wood.
Although they’re not hardwood, there are plenty of reasons why some people might think they are. Below are the primary reasons.
English Yew is Highly Durable
English yew wood is highly durable, a characteristic generally associated with hardwood. Though flexible, it is also long-lasting and can handle a great deal of force.
On the other hand, many other softwoods lack the same level of durability, like pine and cedar. Softwoods like pine and cedar are also durable, but not to the same level as English yew.
Slow-growing trees–like English yew trees–are more likely to be stronger because they have more time to produce durable, thick wood (source). Since most softwoods are faster-growing, they don’t have as much time to grow thick, durable wood. Hence, many people mistake English yew for hardwood.
English Yew Trees Are Slow-Growing
As mentioned above, English yew is relatively slow-growing, which is unusual for most softwoods. Softwoods tend to grow quickly, with a cedar tree growing between 12 and 24 inches (30 and 61 cm) per year.
On the other hand, English yew trees are unlikely to grow as much. They can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm), but this depends on the conditions they are exposed to, and they can grow less than this in certain conditions.
Their slow-growing nature makes them look like hardwood trees.
English Yew is Rot-Resistant
Most softwoods have the disadvantage of not being rot-resistant. However, English yew is mostly rot-resistant, which is why many people mistake it for hardwood. Generally, English yew can handle water and damp conditions better than other softwoods and is less likely to develop mold and other issues.
This also makes English yew a better option for outdoor furniture because it won’t be as affected by the elements.
English Yew is Expensive
Softwoods tend to be less expensive than hardwoods – with the exception of English yew. English yew is more expensive than other softwoods, making it seem like hardwood. It’s more expensive because it’s sturdier and rarer than other softwoods, which also means that people are willing to spend more on it (source).
Other softwoods like pine and cypress tend to be cheaper than English yew.
What Are the Uses of English Yew Wood
There are many uses for English yew wood due to its flexibility, versatility, and durability. For example, it can be used to make both outdoor and indoor furniture. It is also often used to create archery tools.
However, despite its many uses, English yew wood is not popular, mostly due to its rarity. There are plenty of alternatives that people prefer to use.
In history, English yew has been used to make longbows. English yew is also used for medical purposes (source).
When it comes to furniture, yew can be used to make different things:
English yew can also be used to make construction materials.
Taxus baccata is a conifer tree that belongs to the gymnosperm family; hence it is considered a softwood. English yew wood–which comes from this tree–is suitable for a range of uses, including construction materials, archery materials, and furniture.
Many people confuse English yew for hardwood because of its characteristics. Most hardwoods are durable, rot-resistant, and expensive. English yew shares those characteristics, making it one of the hardest softwoods.
It also grows slower than most softwoods, another reason why people confuse it with hardwood. However, it also tends to be more flexible than most hardwoods, which helps distinguish it from them.