THE ETHNOBOTANICAL HISTORY AND HOLOCENE EXTENT OF YEW (TAXUS BACCATA L.) ON THE IRISH LANDSCAPE

  • DELAHUNTY J
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Abstract

The European yew tree (Taxus baccata L.) has been utilized by humans for tens of thousands of years. The Irish saw the yew as a symbol of life and death, used the wood for religious implements, symbolized it in their alphabet, formed laws and stringent fines for harming the trees, and integrated its cultural significance into their lyric prose. There is contradiction in forest history literature as to the extent of this tree on the Holocene landscape, but toponymy, the ancient texts and pollen analysis suggest that yew was historically abundant. Pollen data suggest not only that the tree was abundant in Ireland, but also that it increased during a time of regional woodland decline. The tree became relatively rare on the natural landscape within the last 800 years and religious reverence has waned, but a revived interest in Celtic spirituality and movements by Heritage Council Ireland could serve to prevent further decline. {©} Society of Ethnobiology.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ireland
  • Taxus baccata
  • Yew
  • ethnobotany
  • pollen
  • toponymy

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Authors

  • J L DELAHUNTY

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