Cephalotaxus

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Cephalotaxus bonseri holotype USNM P36887 img3

Cephalotaxus, commonly known as plum yews, is a genus of coniferous trees in the family Cephalotaxaceae. The genus is native to eastern Asia, including parts of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Cephalotaxus species are evergreen trees or shrubs that are valued for their ornamental qualities and have been widely used in horticulture and landscaping.

Description[edit | edit source]

Cephalotaxus species vary in size from small shrubs to large trees, with some reaching up to 20 meters in height. They have dark green, needle-like leaves arranged spirally on the stems, which give them a dense, bushy appearance. The leaves are linear with a pointed tip and are often glossy, adding to their visual appeal.

The plants are dioecious, meaning individual plants are either male or female. Male plants produce small, yellowish pollen cones, while female plants bear seed cones that develop into fleshy, plum-like fruits. These fruits are a distinctive feature of the genus and are where the common name "plum yew" originates. The seeds contained within the fruits are dispersed by wildlife, primarily birds, which feed on the fleshy outer layer.

Taxonomy[edit | edit source]

The taxonomy of Cephalotaxus has been subject to revision, and the number of recognized species varies among different sources. However, there are generally between 8 to 12 species accepted within the genus. Some of the more commonly recognized species include:

Distribution and Habitat[edit | edit source]

Cephalotaxus species are native to the temperate regions of eastern Asia. They prefer shaded or partially shaded areas, often thriving under the canopy of larger trees. These plants are adaptable to a range of soil types but require well-drained soil to prevent root rot. They are found in a variety of habitats, from mountainous regions to forest understories, demonstrating their adaptability to different environmental conditions.

Uses[edit | edit source]

Cephalotaxus species are widely used in horticulture and landscaping due to their attractive appearance and tolerance of shade. They are suitable for a variety of garden settings, including as specimen plants, in foundation plantings, or as hedges and screens. Some species and cultivars are specifically selected for their compact size and are used in smaller gardens or as container plants.

In addition to their ornamental value, extracts from Cephalotaxus have been studied for their potential medicinal properties, including anti-cancer activities. However, research in this area is ongoing, and the medicinal uses of Cephalotaxus are not widely established.

Conservation[edit | edit source]

While some species of Cephalotaxus are common and widely cultivated, others are considered rare and face threats from habitat loss and over-collection. Conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the survival of these species in their natural habitats.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD