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If the two large Yew trees I passed on my way to the library this morning were not growing on a main road, I’m sure their copious quantities of red berries would all have been scoffed by now by hungry winter thrushes.

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And if the berries last a while longer and the weather gets colder, they still might be, the birds forced to brave the passing traffic and pedestrians in search of nourishing food.

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The stones inside those juicy red berries (which are more correctly named arils) are poisonous to most creatures but they pass right through a bird’s digestive system so the bird remains unharmed.

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In fact, birds are essential to the growth and spread of Yew trees – their digestive system helps to weaken the seed’s tough coating, which enables it to sprout, and birds are the main dispersal agents for Yew seeds.

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We humans should never eat the seeds, however, as our stomach acids are strong enough to break down the seed coating, thereby releasing the taxanes (the poisonous alkaloids) into our bodies.

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