Home Science 5000 year old yew tree switches sex in Britain

5000 year old yew tree switches sex in Britain


A tree in the UK has proved that it is never too late to make changes. The 5,000-year-old yew tree, more commonly referred to as the “Fortingall Yew”, appears to have undergone a sex change. It is one of the oldest trees in Europe and since centuries it has been identified as male; however, now it seems that one of the limbs of the ancient tree has had a sex change.

Recently, Dr. Max Coleman, a botanist donning the position of a science communicator at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, noticed that one of the branches of the old tree has berries sprouting on it. The find left him really surprised as such berries are only produced by female yews and the tree in question has always known to be a male yew.

All through the centuries the tree has spent in the Scottish village of Fortingall, it has been recorded as male. This is because the tree carries male pollen-releasing buds. However, now it seems that the tree has turned female. Although thoroughly surprised, Dr. Coleman has admitted that sex changes are not something unheard of when it comes to trees.

He informed that some trees such as ash change sex routinely and there are others like yew that undergoes such procedures very rarely. The botanist added that scientists have not yet been able to find out why exactly such changes take place, but it is believed that sex change in trees might take place for maximizing the probability of reproduction. The other factors that can play a role, according to Dr. Coleman, are age, and different environmental triggers.



Typically, yew trees are dioecious i.e. these trees are either female or male. However, they can undergo sex change if there’s a change in the balance of the hormones or growth regulators of a tree. There are also instances when a tree has maintained both sexes at once that too for a long period of time; it seems something like that has happened even with the Fortingall Yew.

Dr. Coleman said that a lady called Janis Fry has reported that she saw a female branch on the Fortingall Yew way back in 1996. He added that it appears that the lady spotted the same branch, which serves as the evidence of the fact that the branch turned female at least 20 years back.

SOURCEBotanics Stories
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