Outlook Issue 15 Winter 2011
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Nature Notes
Nature Notes In praise of the Yew We need trees more than they need us. The Yew gives to us in so many ways; even its fruit – believed to be poisonous – is edible. Its timber is hard, and attractively so, when made into furniture; its dark green foliage giving an aura of sanctity and sacredness. Ancient dwellers of the West would plant a double line of Yews against their houses, in the belief that they and their home would be given physical – and spiritual – protection. Often found in churchyards, the Yew’s longevity matching, and sometimes surpassing, the age of the adjacent church. The Yew is surrounded by legends and myths. “The smoke was blue, above the yew, the yew beside your house in sight.” The priest poet William Barnes loved trees and paints a word picture of contrasting blue smoke and the dark green of the Yew. The Yew has furnished us with timber for bows and spear shafts, croziers and shrines, and the Palm Sunday procession at one time carried Yew ‘palms.’ This indigenous tree, sometimes with local associations, is often planted as a memorial tree, and the Diocese instituted a local Yew planting event within Suffolk churchyards - to mark the Millennium. Like all fissured and heavily barked trees, the Yew is home to countless insects and spiders, sought for food by a variety of smaller birds – but few avian species make their nests in the branches. The Yew prefers a chalk bed in which to earth its roots and demands plenty of space and ample water. A law passed in the reign of Edward I (1307) prevents the rector from felling churchyard trees: “Ne rector arbores in cemetario prosternat.” Oh, yes .... If you do sample the yew berries – do not eat the seed; it is poisonous! Michael Stagg