As the season changes, I thought it would be fun to look into the interesting aspects of Kitsilano’s street names: particularly all the streets named for trees. Starting with the Yew, I looked up some tree lore and here’s what I found.
How to recognize a yew tree:
First, it is an evergreen conifer. Green year round. Look at the needles, spiraling on the smallest branches. They are shiny and flat with a sharp pointed tip, and very dark green on top, with a paler yellow-green underside. Normally yew looks like a lowspreading shrub or small tree, with branches spread out or downwards and the trunk can even be twisted. Young trees look square, older trees are conical, and they tend to grow from 5 – 15 metres high, although some very old trees have been known to grow to 25 metres. The Western Yew is native, and is found at low to mid elevations on the coast and interior of BC. It has pollen cones on the male trees, and seed cones on the female. These are red and look like berries, each of which contains a single seed. Yew bark is darkish red or purply, thin and scaly, which peels to show a rosy underbark. This inner bark was traditionally used for braiding and weaving.
In the wild, Pacific yew generally live 200-300 years with some specimens living 400 years or more.
Taxol which is used in some cancer treatment, is made from yew bark. First Nations peoples used the Pacific Yew as an anti-inflammatory, and for rheumatism, scurvy, lung and bowel complaints. Although it has medicinal uses, the yew is considered poisonous.
The yew tree produces a great deal of pollen, and in England, Druids used to gather pollen to create special magical effects during clan gatherings, throwing yew pollen into the fire at night to create beautiful little sparks. Yew was considered one of the guardian trees, and was traditionally planted near wells or over blind springs. In the olden days, people gave thanks to the water by singing to the well at Midsummer night, or by ‘Well-dressing’ – decorating the well with petals and sprays of yew. In the old mythical stories, Yew sprays were sometimes used as dowsing tools to find things which were lost.
Yew Street is very green, thanks to City of Vancouver tree-planting, but any yews you see there are courtesy of the independent gardens and hedges of residents and owners. Yew Street ends at the beach, where it meets Cornwall. Just up from Kits Beach, on this street named for the Yew, we find thriving businesses and cafes. To name a few of the eateries: Rossini’s, Café Zen, Café Dall Aqua, Sunset Grill, and Yew First. Then there are Kingshead Inn, Kits Sushi, Urban Well, Malones, Viva Fine Food and Bakery, not to mention the Tangerine Lounge, and more.
And remember to check out the market at 1575 Yew – one of the best places to pick up some fresh flowers and potted plants. Maybe even a little sprig of yew!
And now for Yew Trivia!
What does Robin Hood have to do with Kitsilano’s Yew Street?
The Latin name for the Yew is “taxus” which means “bow” and Robin’s bow was supposedly made from yew wood, which is dense, strong and resilient.