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.
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.
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.
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.
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.