Japanese Plum Yew Looks Pretty Year-Round

It's always a challenge to find excellent plants for deep shade, especially plants that will look good year-round. Though not widely known, Japanese plum yew fits the bill perfectly. It works well in many of the same landscape situations as regular yews (Taxus), but—unlike regular yews—it's also deer-resistant, a big bonus for gardeners!

Japanese plum yew is an evergreen shrub, and it's form may be either low and wide-spreading or more upright, depending on the cultivar. Its handsome foliage consists of long, flat, glossy, deep-green needles arranged in a V shape on its stems.

Male Japanese plum yews bear small pollen cones, while pollinated female plants develop plum-like, fleshy-coated seeds. Though one of its most valuable traits is its superb shade tolerance, it will grow well on sunny sites, too.

Common name: Japanese plum yew

Botanical name: Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Plant type: Evergreen shrub

Zones: 6 to 9

Height: 5 to 10 feet

Family: Cephalotaxaceae

Growing conditions

  • Sun: Sun or shade
  • Soil: Tolerates a range of soil types
  • Moisture: Moist but well-drained; somewhat drought-tolerant once established

  • Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch
  • Pruning: Prune only to remove broken branches or improve form.
  • Fertilizer: Apply compost or soluble fertilizer annually or as needed.


  • Cuttings
  • Seeds

Pests and diseases

  • No serious problems


  • ‘Duke Gardens' has a compact, spreading form and deep-green foliage that resists sunburn.
  • ‘Fastigiata' has an upright columnar form.
  • ‘Korean Gold' has an upright form and greenish-gold foliage.
  • ‘Prostrata' has a low, wide spreading form.

Garden notes

  • Japanese plum yew looks beautiful planted in groups or masses along shady drives, on slopes or under tall shade trees.
  • It makes an ideal backdrop for shade-tolerant perennials like hostas, foamflower, heart-leaf brunnera, ferns and hellebores.
  • It tolerates sun better in cooler regions where nighttime temperatures drop enough to help perk up the foliage.

All in the family

  • It's sometimes listed as a member of the plum yew family (Cephalotaxaceae), containing only the genus Cephalotaxus, but other botanists roll that family into the larger yew family (Taxaceae).
  • Though less widely available, the closely related (and very similar looking) species C. fortunei and C. oliveri are also handsome landscape plants for shade.

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