The yew – in the botanical jargon Taxus baccata – is a particularly easy-care and vigorous plant. Whether planted as a solitary plant or as a hedge, the lush green and the bright red fruits are eye-catchers and also ideal for people with no experience in plant care. But are the plants safe for humans and animals, or are they toxic?
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Yew: Toxic or not?
All parts of the yew contain toxic substances. Bark, needles and fruits as well as the roots are therefore dangerous. The seeds of the fruits are also poisonous. The only exception is the pulp, as it does not contain any dangerous substances.
The concentration of the questionable and even deadly substances fluctuates throughout the year. It is believed that levels are highest during the cool and cold seasons. However, severe symptoms of poisoning and life-threatening conditions can also occur in spring and summer. Because even small amounts of the substances are enough to poison even larger creatures.
The toxins are taxine and cyanogenic glycosides. Taxine is an alkaloid mixture. The cyanogenic glycosides are substances such as the well-known hydrocyanic acid.
The common yew is Taxus baccata . However, it is not the only variety that can be planted in home gardens. Taxus media and all cultivated forms of it are also popular garden plants and are often used as privacy screens, for example.
This is mainly due to the fact that the plants are so easy to care for. Most of the time, watering and fertilizing are not even necessary. A blend is enough. However, the different varieties show no difference in the poison content. So it doesn’t matter whether Taxus baccata or Taxus media is chosen. All varieties and cultivated forms of these plants are potentially dangerous.
signs of poisoning
If parts of the yew tree have been ingested, the first symptoms appear comparatively quickly. If a person is affected, the following symptoms can be involved:
- stomach pain
- Pulse and breathing quicken, first heart palpitations and later weakening
- dilation of the pupils
- Red discoloration of the lips
- falling body temperature
- Nausea to the point of vomiting
If, on the other hand, an animal is affected by the poisoning, the symptoms can be as follows:
- accelerated breathing with increasing breathing difficulties up to standstill
- Bladder infection with frequent urination
- Disorientation, dizziness and staggering
- diarrhea or constipation
- Palpitations followed by a weak, slow pulse
- circulatory collapse
- pain-sensitive abdomen and protective posture
- severe inflammation of the stomach and intestines
- profuse salivation and foam at the mouth
Dosage of Gifts
Since the yew tree is poisonous, but the poison content fluctuates over the course of the year, it is difficult to give an exact dose. Two other factors make this statement even more difficult. On the one hand, it is usually very difficult to determine the amount of plant parts that have been ingested. This applies to both humans and animals.
On the other hand, the poison works at different speeds, depending on the species and the overall physical constitution. Horses can die five minutes after eating because they are particularly sensitive to the toxins. Adults can expect about an hour and a half. In any case, this is an extreme emergency.
Although determining the amount is difficult, there is still some – albeit vague – information about the dose. However, this does not mean that dangerous poisoning only occurs above this dose. The following amounts are considered lethal:
- 30 grams of yew needles or other plant parts for dogs
- ten grams per kilogram of body weight in cattle, sheep and goats
- 100 to 200 grams in horses
- 50 to 100 grams in humans
This information makes it clear that little is known about the dose. The considerable difference in size and weight of dogs already makes it clear that this can really only be a rough guide. In addition, there is no information for guinea pigs, rabbits or cats, for example. However, it must be assumed that, as with reptiles, even very small amounts are sufficient for poisoning.
Poisoning is rare in adults. Small children in particular can come into contact with the plant parts of the yew tree when playing and, for example, pick up needles. The bright red fruits of the plant are also dangerous. Because of their color, shape and size, children might mistake them for fruit and snack on them in an unobserved moment.
Anyone who has a yew tree in their garden or perceives it in areas that are heavily frequented by children should therefore exercise particular caution.
If there is a yew tree in the garden, it can quickly become dangerous for pets. Mammals, but also reptiles and birds could consider the plant as food and fatally poison themselves in the process. Horses and farm animals are particularly at risk when clippings from the yew tree are thrown onto pasture. Access to the plants themselves or young yew trees growing unnoticed on the pasture also pose a risk.
In the case of horses, there is also the fact that they can come into contact with a large number of plants during a ride. Regular checks and caution are therefore essential.
If poisoning by Taxus is even assumed, an emergency doctor or a veterinary clinic must be informed immediately – every minute counts. Medicinal charcoal can be administered as first aid. This binds at least part of the toxins and can thus delay the progression of the poisoning.
However, medical or veterinary treatment is essential.
The best prevention is to avoid yew trees in your own garden. Even if they are beautiful and easy-care plant varieties, they pose considerable dangers. This is especially true when children use the area to play or animals are in the garden.
In addition, clippings should be disposed of safely. Unfortunately, grazing animals are often poisoned because the clippings of the yew tree are thrown onto the pastures. Disposal with household waste is much better.