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Take Great Care with Yew Trimmings

Some homeowners may be trimming shrubs this time of year – taming those wild growths back to a manageable and more aesthetically pleasing level. If you have yew shrubs around the home, take great care what you do with the trimmings! In fact, a Purdue expert recently cautioned that the consequences could be deadly for grazing livestock.

Yews are flexible-needled evergreens, either shrubs or small trees. They have an alternate needle arrangement, with each needle attached singly to the stem. They have long, slender twigs with a reddish-brown hue. Needles are ½ to 1 inch long, flat, tapering to an abrupt point, and they have faint white bands on the undersides of the needles. The cones are red and fleshy, appear berry-like, and one-fourth to one-third of an inch long. Most yews are what we call dioecious plants, having male and female flowers on separate plants. Only the female plants produce the red, fleshy cones called arils, which contain a single seed.

Dr. Keith Johnson, Purdue forage specialist, said that many plants have poisonous compounds that can cause all kinds of concerns, and even death, if consumed. “The interactions that I have had with veterinarians, suggest that the yew is right at or near the top of plants that cause livestock death,” said Johnson. “A disheartening scenario is when yew trimmings are thrown over the fence by the livestock owner or neighbor thinking that the trimmings would make a great snack for the livestock.” Fresh or dry trimmings, it doesn’t matter, he said. “The result will be the same – death.”

Purdue Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL) reported in 2011:

“Yews (Taxus spp.) are evergreen plants commonly used for ornamental landscaping throughout the Midwest. The most common varieties of this plant that are found in Indiana include English yew (Taxus baccata), Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) and Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis). These plants can be highly toxic and have been implicated in numerous animal and livestock poisonings. In the majority of the clinical cases reported, yew poisoning is frequently due to accidental exposure as a result of animals being unwittingly fed clippings from yew bushes. In a 500-pound animal, it may take as little as 0.5 pounds of yew clippings to be potentially fatal.”

For more information, find publication WS-37, “Guide to Toxic Plants in Forages,” at Purdue Extension’s Education Store,

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