Upright evergreens are always valuable plants in the garden. They give us height without occupying much space, something that is often needed, especially in confined spaces and small gardens. They slow down our gaze by catching our attention, so that we linger a little, appreciating the garden, and its beauty, more deeply. From a practical standpoint they are excellent for hiding unsightly elements – everything from air-con units to compost bins – and for making barriers and screens. It is hard to imagine gardening without them. For sunny locations we have lots of choices, but when it comes to shade the story is different. The classic plant to choose would be English yew (Taxus), but in warmer regions this plant suffers from the heat and humidity, and we need something better. Often overlooked, there is the ideal plant for this job – the Upright Japanese Plum Yew. With excellent shade tolerance, and resistant to heat and humidity too, the bold plant has the perfect upright form, and it is easy to grow. It is also more cold-resistant that other forms, so it grows well in colder areas too.
The Upright Japanese Plum Yew is an evergreen conifer with branches that thrust vertically upwards, making a slim, narrow plant that will be 6 feet tall within 10 years, but less than 18 inches wide. It grows at a rate of 6 to 8 inches a year, so in time, if untrimmed, it will be significantly taller, and mature plants can be over 10 feet tall, and between 3 and 5 feet wide. The upper stems grow vertically, without branching, for some length. This gives the plant a very strong vertical line and lots of character, with the stems looking rod-like and stiff. Lower stems branch and become bushy, with spreading side-shoots. New vertical shoots grow up strongly from the base, keeping this plant bushy and dense, and gradually widening. Older stems at the base of the plant have reddish brown to gray bark, with an attractive rough texture, while the younger bark is green.
The leaves of the Upright Japanese Plum Yew are long and slender, with parallel sides, ending abruptly in a rounded tip. They are up to 2 inches long, and ¼ inch wide, flat, with a rich, dark green upper side, and a gray-green lower side. In the ordinary Japanese plum yew, the leaves grow in two rows on opposite sides of the stems, arching and curving like the wings of a bird. We see this arrangement on the lower side-shoots, but on the younger upright shoots the leaves grow out all around the stems, looking very much like the English yew, but a little longer. The leaves stay lush and green all year round, and last on the plant for 4 or 5 years, before dropping. The Japanese plum yew has separate male and female trees, with male trees producing pollen, and female trees producing edible, plum-like fruits that are popular in Japan. It is not clear if this upright form is male or female, since it never seems to flower.
With its strong architectural form and unique features, the Upright Japanese Plum Yew is a great specimen plant in all styles of gardens, from traditional to modern, and in Japanese-style gardens too. Plant it to fill the corners of courtyards and small spaces. Use it as an accent in a bed of shrubs. Plant it on a lawn area, or beneath large shade trees. A row, spaced 18 inches apart, makes a great screen for a shady place, or along a north-facing wall. It is also valuable as a container plant in dark areas, where its upright form and dense growth will look great all year round.
The Upright Japanese Plum Yew is significantly more cold-resistant than the normal form of this tree. It is reliably hardy, with no winter injury, not only in zone 6, but all through zone 5. If you would like to grow a Plum Yew, and you live in these areas, this is the one to choose. Equally, if you live in zones 8 and 9, and need shade-tolerant evergreens, then look no further. Forget trying to grow English yew in those zones and switch to Plum yew. This plant thrives in the heat and humidity of the South, and nothing beats it for shade tolerance. It will grow in full sun in cooler zones, and in partial shade everywhere. Especially in the hottest zones it will grow well even in deep shade, and nothing beats it for shady corners, where it will bring greenness and interest to those unsightly dead spaces. This plant is normally free of pests and diseases, and it grows best in moist, well-drained sandy soils, but it will grow in most soils that is not constantly saturated, or very dry. Once established it has moderate resistance to drought, and pests, diseases and deer leave it alone. It can be trimmed as needed, but with its unique growth there is no real reason to pull out the trimmers.
The Upright Japanese Plum Yew is a special form of the Japanese Plum Yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonii, called ‘Fastigiata’. It is an old variety originally grown in Japan, where it is still popular, particularly for hedges. It certainly dates back before 1830, and it was introduced in the West in 1869, forty years after the original Japanese plum yew arrived. It is widely grown and appreciated in Europe, but less so in America, perhaps because it is confused with English yew. We highly recommend this plant for its toughness and shade resistance. We only have a limited stock, so order now, as they will soon be gone.