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Have Yew Heard? Here Are Some Alternatives To Popular Toxic Plants

Linn Kinter
Idaho Fish and Game
Four varieties of non-native yew are known to be poisionous to animals (and humans). The plant is commonly used in landscaping projects.

As we've reported, the Japanese yew is a commonly planted ornamental evergreen in Idaho -- with lethal ramifications for wildlife. Once an elk eats just a couple handfuls of the plant, the animal goes into cardiac arrest and dies within hours. Idaho Fish and Game estimates about 75 elk and pronghorn around the state died this winter from eating yew.

There's good reason the yew is popular for the landscaping world; the shrub survives in shade and requires little maintenance. It's been imported into the state for decades (it's not grown here), and many people don't even know it's in their yard.

Fish and Game has come up with a list of alternatives to the toxic yew for people who want a similar type of plant, but don't want to risk killing wildlife. Here's some Idaho native evergreens the agency suggests for shady spots: 

Western swordfern (Polystichum munitum)--shade or part shade, medium water; 2 to 4 ft tall Oregon boxleaf (Pachystima myrsinites)--shade or part shade, medium water; 2 to 4 ft tall Curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)--part sun or full sun, low water Russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis)--part sun or full sun, moderate to low water Oakleaf sumac (Rhus trilobata)--part sun or full sun, low water Oregon grape-holly (Berberis aquifolium, Mahonia aquifolium)--full shade to part shade, medium water; may spread

Here are other native plant options, though these ones are not evergreen:

Syringa (Philadelphus lewisii)--part shade to full sun, low water; Idaho’s state flower Woods rose (Rosa woodsii)--full shade to full sun, low water Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)--full shade to part sun, moderate water Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)--part shade to full sun, moderate water Mallow ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus)--part shade to full sun, low water Rocky mountain maple (Acer glabrum)--part shade to full sun, low water Golden currant (Ribes aureum)--part shade to full sun, low to moderate water Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)--part shade to part sun, low to moderate water Common snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus)--full shade to part sun, low water Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)--full shade to part sun, medium water; beautiful red branches; a yellow-twig cultivar is also available Highbush cranberry/mooseberry (Viburnum edule)--full shade to part shade, medium water

If you're in Blaine County, the county weed department can help you identify whether the plants in your yard are Japanese yew. The county passed an ordinance in 2016 banning the plant.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2017 Boise State Public Radio

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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