Yew Tree

The most striking and significant portion of the appurtenant garden of the Arese Borromeo Palace is made up of an expansive parterre, which runs parallel to the wider side of the garden, bordered by two double rows of white hornbeams (Carpinus betulus) characterized by their twisted trunk, and smooth and gray bark that contrasts with the more reddish and scaly bark of the two rows of yews (Taxus baccata) present in the innermost portion of the parterre. Yew and hornbeam, therefore, with their crowns create a striking chromatic effect with the changing of the seasons. In the spring, the dark-green, needle-like leaves of the yew tree alternate with the light-green leaves, and in the autumn with the yellow-orange leaves of the hornbeam.

The double rows of hornbeam and yew trees, delimit laterally the parterre and the architectural furnishing until it blends with the wooded area at the end of the garden.
Along the intersections of the avenue with the alternating composition of hornbeams and yews, majestic specimens of cedar (Cedrus atlantica) have been positioned. They have a pyramid shape with ascending branches with blue-green leaves gathered together in small bunches.
If observed closely, the yew, which belongs to the Taxaceae family, has two-row needles on its protruding branches, or needles arranged in an alternating fashion, or distributed in a spiral while on the branches they grow in a spiral. One of the main peculiarities of the shiny, dark-green leaves of the evergreen tree is that in spite of its pointed shape, it does not prick.  The presence of specimens of the yew inside the garden belonging to the palace is not surprising because they were often cultivated in parks of noble villas in Lombardy, and support pruning very well, even drastic ones transforming them also into plant sculptures. Some yew trees, therefore, may be seen at the entrance of the Arese Borromeo Palace, characterized by small specimens arranged in rows, perfectly pruned as a cone or a flame, which welcome the visitors or introduce them to this wonderful garden, a silent oasis in daily competition with city traffic. Here we can observe a particular use of the yew tree, which can be compared, for its similarity or difference with the other yew trees inside villas, which belonging to Lombardy’s system of aristocratic villas. Among them, for example, are Villa Cusani Tittoni Traverso in Desio, Villa Crivelli Pusterla in Limbiate and Villa  Visconti Borromeo Litta in Lainate, where an imposing yew is visible inside the Theatre of Verzura, a natural theatre made up of a series of yew trees once strictly pruned as truncated pyramids, for musical and theatrical performances.
Yew trees which bloom in February-March, are mostly dioecious because their flowers are made up by different individuals: the male buds, which are yellow, small and round, appear singularly in the lower part of the leaf axils of the previous year; the female buds, small and green, will turn into splendid red fruits in the form of a chalice (arils) after fertilization.
Some parts of the yew tree can be toxic for humans. This was well known in the olden times so that this plant was traditionally called the “tree of death” and associated with pagan rituals around the world or in funeral rituals: in ancient Rome, in the days of mourning there was a custom of making funeral wreaths by intertwining its branches.