Taxus baccata var. varegata

Spreading yew

The World Botanical Associates Web Page
Prepared by Richard W. Spjut
April 2003; photos and specimens cited added September 2006; July 2007, reformatted June 2010

1g. Taxus baccata var. variegata Weston (Figs. 117–120), Bot. Univ. 1: 292, 347 (1770).  Taxus baccata var. foli-variegata, Loudon, Arb. Brit. 4: 2068 (1838), “T. b. 6 foliis variegates.Taxus baccata (var.) variegata aurea Carrière, Traité gén. conif. 518 (1855); Taxus baccata (var.) aurea Carrière, Traité gén. conif. 734 (1867). Taxus baccata subf. aureo-variegata Pilger, Pflanzenreich 18 (iv, 5): 114 (1903). Taxus baccata f. aurea (Carrière) Pilger, Mitt. Deutsch. Dendrol. Ges. 25: 11. 1916. Taxus baccata aurea elegantissima Kent, Veitch man. conif. ed. 2., 126. 1900. Taxus baccata fastigiata aureo-variegata Beissner, Handb. Nandelholzk. 170 (1891).  Taxus communis aurea (Nels.) Pinaceae 172. 1866.  Original material and origin unknown. Neotype (designated, Spjut 2007b)—Finland. Ålandia, Lemland—Florström at BM! (leaves with 11/12 stomata rows/band and an abaxial marginal area of 4 rows of rectangular, smooth cells).

Taxus baccata var. cheshuntensis [Hort. ex] Paul, Proc. Hort. Soc. Lond. 1: 492. 1861, taxonomic synonym proposed. Taxus baccata f. fastigiata Pilger subf. cheshuntensis Pilger, Pflanzenreich 18 (iv, 5): 115. 1903. Taxus baccata (f.) cheshuntensis Beissner, Handb. Nandelholzk. 170. 1891. Original material unknown, described from Horticulture: “raised from seed of Irish yew in Paul’s nursery at Cheshunt, England, around 1857” (den Ouden and Boom 1965). Relevant material possibly at K “Taxus baccata cheshuntensis,” “ forma No. 11 Subf. g” on sheet with four other specimens of “variegata,” and “aurea” (leaves with 12 stomata rows/band, abaxial border of 5 smooth cells, papillose midrib). Other related material at K: Herb. Gordon ex Hooker 1876, forma II Subf. L! with three other specimens on the same sheet, “Imperialis,” “nana,” and “epacroides” (stomata 8–9 rows/band, abaxial margin with 12 rows of smooth cells).  Type undetermined.

Spreading yew. Distribution: Europe.

Shrubs or trees with ascending branches, the branchlets fastigiate, or in whorls, stiff, ascending or spreading recurved, yellowish green on young growth, pale orange with age, leaves wide spreading in nearly two ranks but mostly erect, oblong, obtuse to acute, olive green above, pale orange to rusty orange beneath; male cones in globular aggregates near apex of branchlets, or reflexed in a racemose arrangement; seeds maturing on 2nd yr or older growth, subcylindric, pale orange to purplish.

Taxus baccata var. variegata is recognized by the rigid nearly pinnate or whorled branchlets with most leaves erect (bent upwards).   Taxus baccata var. elegantissima is perhaps most similar; it differs by the less rigid branchlets, which are often more dichotomously branched, and by the leaves that are slightly longer and more narrowly tapered (or more strongly recurved along margins) to apex.  Other similar varieties include T. baccata var. baccata, distinguished by the more frequent dichotomous branching and leaves spreading evenly in one plane from two sides of a branchlet so as to appear in two-ranks, var. glauca, which is like var. variegata in its upward pointed leaves, but differs by the wider often recurved spreading branchlets, and T. baccata var. jacksonii, recognized by the flexuous branchlets having leaves strongly convex across the adaxial surface.  Differences in color are also used to distinguish these varieties, particularly the orange tint that is often evident on branches of var. jacksonii, and a yellow color on young leaves and spotty orange on branchlets of var. glauca, in contrast the dull olive green color in var. variegata, while other varieties vary somewhat in shades of green.

The variegated  yew may prove to be of hybrid origin between T. baccata and T. fastigiata.  This seems evident from the leaf arrangement that is similar to T. recurvata cv. ’Expansa’,  and by the branching that compares to cultivated specimens referred to as  cheshuntensis, a name applied to a plant originating from seed of T. fastigiata Also, leaves from three of seven specimens assigned to var. variegata were found to have 11–12 stomata rows per band, while a leaf from another specimen of a cultivar lacked papillae across 9 marginal cells.  Leaves of the Irish yew have been found with more than 10 stomata rows and often lack papillae across a broad marginal  zone.  Although some specimens cited under var. variegata are from cultivation, others appear wild, which includes the type from Finland.

Among the specimens cited below is one collected by Barron (K) from Buckland Kent (England) that was reportedly from a monoecious tree, which may be related to cultivars in the Kew Gardens with tags bearing the name ‘Barronii’.  The plants were also observed to have yellow arils.  This variety appears to have been recognized by Loudon (1844), judging from one of his illustrations of yews that show a tree with ascending branchlets and erect leaves that compares favorably with this specimen.  A variety of Taxus baccata that is distinguished for its yellow aril also differs by other character features as described elsewhere under var. fructo-lutea.

Representative SpecimensPortugalAzores: Pico, Quinta das Rosas, 150 m, Goncalves 4491 (BM); Azores, Patal, Horts, Goncalves 4625 (BM). England: Kent, Buckland, Barron (K).  Finland: Alandia, Ekerö, Lindberg 419 (K).   Sweden: Södermanland, Sternvall 1872 (K). Cultivation: unknown origin: Ex Herb. Gordon (ed. 2), in adnot.T. baccata elegantissima,” and “forma II fastigiata subf C. elegantissima” (K); ex Hillier Arb., BM (NH) Staff 1441, in adnot. T. baccata 'elegantissima' (BM).

Cultivars of T. baccata var. variegata: From Herbarium George Gordon (K), top left, 'Cheshuntensis, top right, 'Aurea', bottom left 'Variegata' and bottom right 'Barroni'. All appear to be hybrids derived in part from the Irish Yew, T. fastigiata. All appear to have rather stiff ascending to erect branches.

Finland: Ålandia, Lemland—Florström (BM).  Illustration indicates leaves have 11/12 stomata rows per band and an abaxial marginal area of 4 rows of rectangular smooth cells, and a distinctly papillose midrib, the papillae marginal.  Neotype.

PortugalAzores: Top—Pico, Quinta das Rosas, 150 m, Goncalves 4491 (BM).  Bottom—Patal, Horts, Goncalves 4625 (BM).  Illustrations show that both leaves from both specimens were found to have an abaxial leaf margin of 4 cells across without papillae, followed by 10 rows of papillose cells; while stomata bands in one specimen had 10 rows of stomata, and 12 rows of stomata in the other. Both leaves had obscure papillae on midrib epidermal cells.


England: Barron Tree, reportedly monoecious. "From the great Yew at Buckland, Kent moved by Mr. Barron," see Gardens Chronicle 1880, p. 256. Specimens collected 15 September 1886.  Leaves from both specimens were found to have 4 marginal cells without papillae, followed by 7 rows of papillose cells, 9 rows of stomata and a yellowish papillose midrib of 12 cells across.  The branchlets of these specimens appear pendulous, but the upturned leaves, obtuse to acute to apex, would seem to compare most favorably with T. baccata var. variegata

Cultivars: Specimens from the George Gordon's Herbarium, acquired by Kew (K), identified as forma fastigiata subforma 'Elegantissima.'  Taxus baccata var. elegantissima, as recognized on this website, differs in having more slender, long tapered leaves.  Moreover, in the present treatment, the above herbarium specimens are referred to T. baccata var. variegata  by the rather erect stiff branches.  This variety differs from T. fastigiata by the strongly secund leaves.

Sweden: Södermanland, Sternvall 1872 (K).  Illustration indicates that the the leaf was found to have on its abaxial surface 6 rows of marginal cells without papillae followed by 4 rows of papillose cells, a stomata band with 10 rows of stomata and an obscurely papillose midrib 13 cells wide. 

Cultivated: England, Hampshire, Hillier Arboretum, Museum of Natural History Staff 1441 (BM).  This specimen is most similar to the one above from the George Gordon Herbarium deposited in the Kew Herbarium (K).  The epithet 'variegata' is obviously in regard to the variation in color of the foliage on a plant.  These specimens clearly show the variegated characteristic; however, the taxonomic emphasis here is on the upturned leaves and stiff branchlets.  The cv 'Elegantissima' also has variegated foliage, but differs in the more slender branchlets and more tapered leaves.  Illustration indicates that the the leaf was found to have on its abaxial surface 9 rows of marginal cells without papillae followed by 10 rows of papillose cells, a stomata band with 9 rows of stomata and a midrib with papillose cells on the outer rows. 

From Herbarium Auerswald (BM), collected March 1857.  Other data illegible.  Illustration indicates that the the leaf was found to have on its abaxial surface 4 rows of marginal cells without papillae followed by 9 rows of papillose cells, a stomata band with 7–8 rows of stomata and a papillose midrib.  This specimen may be a hybrid between T. baccata var. baccata and var. variegata