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A Floridata Plant Profile #629 Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Common Names: Japanese plum yew, Harrington plum yew, cow-tail pine, plum yew
Family: Cephalotaxaceae (plum yew Family)
Wallpaper Gallery (2 images)

tree  Shrub  Tolerant of Shade and Low Light Conditions Edible Plant Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage

plum yew 'Fastigiata'
This is an upright cultivar of the plum yew Cephalotaxus harringtonia called 'Fastigiata'.
The plum yews are evergreen, coniferous shrubs or small trees with flat, needlelike leaves arranged in two ranks on the green twigs, and fleshy, plumlike seeds borne only on female plants. Japanese plum yew is a shrub or small tree to 30 ft tall and 20 ft (6.1 m) wide, but most cultivars are quite a bit smaller. The needles, in two rows, rise up from the twigs forming a V shaped trough, and are about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) long, sharp-pointed and slightly curved, like a sickle. On the underside of each leaf, on either side of the midrib, are two lighter colored glaucus bands which contain several rows of stomata (singular stoma). These are minute pores through which the leaves exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The seeds are about 1 in (2.5 cm) long and look a lot like green olives. Most of the plum yews have many stems sprouting from the base and some send up suckers.

A low-growing cultivar of Japanese plum yew nicely complements the armless semi-nude beauty of a concrete Greco-Roman goddess of love. Click to download (800x600) a large version of this image.
There are at least three named varieties and several cultivars of Japanese plum yew. C. harringtonia var. drupacea is a shrub to 15 ft (4.6 m) high with a rounded crown, and shorter, blunt tipped needles to 1 in (2.5 cm) long. Cultivar 'Nana' is a low, spreading shrub that sends up suckers, forming a thicket. 'Prostrata' forms a low mound growing to about 2 ft (0.6 cm) tall with a spread of 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m). One of the strangest of the plume yews is 'Fastigiata', a columnar or vase-shaped shrub with long branches originating near the base and pointing straight up. The branches are held tightly together and the leaves are bent downward and arranged in spiral radiating whorls, like bottlebrushes. 'Fastigiata' gets about 8 ft (2.4 m) tall and 3-5 ft (0.9-1.5 m) wide.

Japanese plum yew is native to Japan, Korea and eastern China, where it grows in the forest understory.

'Fastigiata' foliage
The leaves of 'Fastigiata' are arranged in spiral whorls.
The plum yews are slow growers, some taking as long as 10 years to reach 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in height. They grow best in sandy, slightly acidic soils. They should be sheltered from strong winds.
Light: Japanese plum yew will thrive in a semi-shady to shady position in warm climates, but should have more sun in cooler regions.
Moisture: Regular water and well drained soil.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. New growth in spring will be damaged by a late frost. 'Nana' is said to be hardy to zone 5.
Propagation: Seeds can take 2 years to germinate, and they require a pre-germination chilling period. Plant seeds in labeled pots and leave them outside through the winter and be patient! Plum yews also can be propagated from cuttings. Use tip cuttings of upward growing semi-ripe wood in summer or autumn. Cuttings from lateral shoots may grow into prostrate, creeping shrubs.

plum yew
The needles of C. harringtonia var. drupacea are arranged in two rows, held in a V-shaped trough.
Japanese plum yew has the potential to be a very useful landscape plant in the southern US. It is more tolerant of heat than the true yews (Taxus), more interesting than most of the junipers, and more tolerant of shade than almost any needle evergreen. And deer don't eat it! Japanese plum yew tolerates severe pruning, and makes a good hedge in a semi-shady or even shady area. It is well suited for foundation plantings. The cultivar 'Fastigiata' makes an interesting specimen that is sure to attract attention anywhere.

The fleshy, plumlike fruits are a popular food in Japan, where plum yews are cultivated for that purpose. Plum yews are dioecious and it is necessary to have at least one male plant for every five females to insure a good seed crop.

The plum yews are similar to, and closely related to, the yews, family Taxaceae. There are only seven species in the genus Cephalotaxus and Cephalotaxus is the only genus in the family Cephalotaxaceae.

Steve Christman 01/25/00; updated 01/07/05, 02/15/09

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