Pacific yew is native to the Coast Range of British Columbia and the northwest coast of the United States. It is also found in a few areas farther inland.
Pacific yew is native to the Coast Range of British Columbia and the northwest coast of the United States. It is also found in a few areas farther inland.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

J.S. Peterson
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

© J.S. Peterson


Local First Nations identified Pacific yew as a plant with medicinal properties, making teas from the needles and bark, and applying crushed needles to wounds. They also used the extremely hard wood for implements that needed to withstand strain, such as fishhooks and paddles.
Local First Nations identified Pacific yew as a plant with medicinal properties, making teas from the needles and bark, and applying crushed needles to wounds. They also used the extremely hard wood for implements that needed to withstand strain, such as fishhooks and paddles.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

In 1971, researchers identified a chemical compound in Pacific yew called paclitaxel. It was later approved for use against ovarian and certain types of beast cancer and is sold under the trade name Taxol®. It is now also approved for use against an AIDS-related cancer.

Research continues into other medical uses for paclitaxel and also for new compounds derived from or related to it.

In 1971, researchers identified a chemical compound in Pacific yew called paclitaxel. It was later approved for use against ovarian and certain types of beast cancer and is sold under the trade name Taxol®. It is now also approved for use against an AIDS-related cancer.

Research continues into other medical uses for paclitaxel and also for new compounds derived from or related to it.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Pacific yew is uncommon in gardens and rarely available at nurseries. It is very slow growing and the berries - as with most yews -  are poisonous. However, as interest in gardening with native plants increases, it may become a more popular choice for west coast gardens.
Pacific yew is uncommon in gardens and rarely available at nurseries. It is very slow growing and the berries - as with most yews -  are poisonous. However, as interest in gardening with native plants increases, it may become a more popular choice for west coast gardens.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

Missouri Botanical Garden

© Missouri Botanical Garden


For years, Pacific yew was considered to be a "weed tree" of no commercial value. When paclitaxel was first discovered, the demand for Pacific yew suddenly became overwhelming. With an estimated six trees required to treat one cancer patient, and with Pacific yew being very slow-growing, it was clear that the demand would soon outstrip the supply and that the Pacific yew might become endangered.

However, in the 1990s, researchers developed new methods of semi-synthesizing the drug from other species of yew, such as the much more common and faster-growing English yew. The pressure on the Pacific yew population was reduced. Replanting programs are now underway in British Columbia.

For years, Pacific yew was considered to be a "weed tree" of no commercial value. When paclitaxel was first discovered, the demand for Pacific yew suddenly became overwhelming. With an estimated six trees required to treat one cancer patient, and with Pacific yew being very slow-growing, it was clear that the demand would soon outstrip the supply and that the Pacific yew might become endangered.

However, in the 1990s, researchers developed new methods of semi-synthesizing the drug from other species of yew, such as the much more common and faster-growing English yew. The pressure on the Pacific yew population was reduced. Replanting programs are now underway in British Columbia.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Taxus canadensis, the Canadian Yew or Ground Hemlock, is one of the yew species that can serve as a starting point for semi-synthesized paclitaxel. There are fears that the story of the Pacific yew may repeat itself in Atlantic Canada as demand for this plant increases. Research is currently underway to try to determine how to establish a sustainable harvest through a combination of wildcrafting and cropping.
Taxus canadensis, the Canadian Yew or Ground Hemlock, is one of the yew species that can serve as a starting point for semi-synthesized paclitaxel. There are fears that the story of the Pacific yew may repeat itself in Atlantic Canada as demand for this plant increases. Research is currently underway to try to determine how to establish a sustainable harvest through a combination of wildcrafting and cropping.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • describe the plant Pacific yew;
  • explain why Pacific yew is interesting as a plant remedy.

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