Monday, June 6, 2016
Yew a male or a female?
Fortingall Yew, in Perthshire, has been recorded as 'male' for centuries, but in recent years it has started to sprout seeds, suggesting that part of it is changing gender. This 'rare and unusual phenomenon' move has baffled botanists.
The Fortingall Yew standing in a church yard in Perthshire, Scotland is estimated to be 5,000 years old. For as long as people have been recording data on the tree, it was assumed to be male – meaning that it produces pollen instead of berries. Yet, this year three red berries were spotted growing on its branches, which can only mean one thing: at least part of the tree is changing its sex to female.
How can this occur? Max Coleman of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh says, “It’s a rare occurrence… rare and unusual and not fully understood.” He believes that environmental stress may have led to hormonal changes in the tree, causing the berries to begin sprouting. The autumn and winter seasons make it easy to differentiate a yew’s sex. Coleman recognizes that other yews and similar trees have been observed to seemingly switch sexes.
It appears that whatever change is taking place is gradual, as the rest of the tree is still male. Coleman explains, “In the Fortingall Yew it seems that one small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.” He insists that the tree remains healthy and the three berries (seeds) have been collected for further study. The Fortingall Yew is believed to be upwards of 5,000 years old, as estimated by measurements taken today versus during the 1700s. It just goes to show that it is never too late to start living to your fullest expression.