Wishlist: Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Prostrata’

by Andrew Keys on February 16, 2010

OK! Full disclosure: the photo here is not Cephalotaxus ‘Prostrata,’ it’s a you-get-the-point shot of similar, upright C. sinensis. I was MOST CONVINCED I had a photo of ‘Prostrata.’ It was all in my head. See slideshow link below for honest to god ‘Prostrata’ pics.

Today’s pronunciation provided by Lynn Felici-Gallant, one of my favorite people and the co-editor of the new magazine Coastal Home. Follow the mag on Twitter @CoastalHG, and hey! They’re announcing a tagline contest! Also follow Lynn @IndigoGardens.

Pronunciation // Yews and I have a history. Growing up, I watched my mother chop giant Podocarpus yews into shape in ghastly ways I didn’t so much approve of. (Sorry, mom.)

Here in the Northeast U.S., Taxus yews are all too common. They’re everywhere, chopped into every craptacular shape and size you can imagine, rendering sheared Podocarps of my youth wildly exotic by comparison. They are the poster children for bad foundation plantings here. Our neighbor (who, it should be said, is a fantastic neighbor) has a hedge pawing at the perimeter of his home that seamlessly blends the homely trifecta of plain green Taxus, plain green rhododendron, and plain green arborvitae. All we need now are some plain green hostas, and we’re just pocket protectors away from a party.

Our house, when we bought it, was also graced by four yews, one on either side of the front and side doors, all inverted cones from years of being sheared at the top and nothing else. Taking a cue from my mom, I cut them to the ground and let them grow back, but a bit more naturally, as is my way.

I digress. I’m not saying I want to plant Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Prostrata’ (Zone 5/6-9) by the front door, but I was tickled pink to find something I loved of the yew persuasion, something yewishly delicious, a creeper that easily can and really SHOULD be left to grow as it wants, NO shearing, and is a sheer (not shear) delight in that.

I’d seen Cephalotaxus ‘Prostrata’ at nurseries and thought, “Wow, it’s nice,” but it wasn’t until I saw it at Tower Hill Botanic Garden I was sold. The intricacy of the thing was astounding — each little branchlet looked like a tiny cycad, a mini Zamia. I never thought I’d be gaga for a yew. So gaga, in fact, I forgot to photograph it.

Where CAN you see Cephalotaxus ‘Prostrata’? Here’s a slideshow of Flickr search results for the plant. Note the species appears in lit as harringtonii, harringtoniana, and harringtonia.

Cephalotaxus is a member of the very small family Cephalotaxaceae, which also includes the genera Torreya and Amentotaxus, the latter I move be referred to as Mentos Taxus.

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