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Dragon's Breath: Yew Pollen

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


Small brownish flowers growing on a branch of yew with the dark green needle-like leaves in-between.
Male yew flowers

With Spring comes the flowering of the male yew trees with small orange-toned flowers that are really never noticed unless you get closer to take a peek. Considering how insignificant they look, it’s surprising just how much pollen they contain! The tiny, lightweight pollen grains can travel for miles in the air and a brisk wind easily whips up a dense cloud. It looks quite eerie when you're not expecting it, almost as if something's materialising to greet you – the ancient spirit of the yew itself, or perhaps dragon’s breath re-emerging from a medieval tale.


When the yew flowers fall, they collectively create a patch of muted colour on the ground below. Maple and oak flower around the same time and between them all, they paint the paths in subtle pastel shades - the yew bringing orange tones, the oak adding its greenish flowers and the maple adding a yellowish-green.


Generally, yew trees are either male with flowers in the springtime, or they are female with scarlet red fruits in the autumn. It’s not unheard of though for the trees to change and become both sexes. The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland is one of Britain’s oldest trees at around 5,000 years old, though some estimates place it up to 9,000 years old. Records have always noted the tree as being male, but it’s recently begun to grow berries on one of the high branches.


Another, at Llanfeugan Church in Pencelli in Wales, has also changed. It’s around 3,000 years old and was thought to be male until it recently began producing berries.


In southern Britain, the berries (properly called arils) have the local names of snodder-gills, snots, snotter berries, snottergall, and snotty gogs.

Thick cloud of white pollen rising up from a dark green yew tree.
Cloud of yew pollen from male flowers

Bright green tips of new growth on the dark green branches of a yew tree.
This year's new growth on a local ancient yew

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