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The Yew Tree.

The Yew Tree, by Hal Hartzell Jr. Hulogosi, PO Box 1188, Eugene, OR 97440 (1991). Black-and-white photos and drawings, 319 pp. Hardcover $29.95; softcover $19.95.

In arguments to save rainforests, the material rewards offered society feature cures for cancer and other dread diseases. Few of the rainforest trees and plants that have yielded such drugs have become as well known as our temperate forest tree, the yew. Even before the tree became commonplace in newspapers and magazines featuring the cancer-fighting properties of the yew's chemical taxol, Americans were vaguely aware of the name from literature and landscaping.

As a landscape tree, the yew appears mainly as a short, dark evergreen shrub with pink, hollow-tipped berries. Any good teacher knows they are poisonous. So did many Native Americans and Europeans who used yew for both its curative and killing powers. Perhaps these powers are what made the yew a symbol of mourning in poems and stories. And of course, before the advent of the fiberglass bow, real bowmen like Robin Hood preferred the yew longbow--an instrument so feared that the French forbade their subjects to have them lest the common man rise up against his rulers. (The right of citizens to bear arms isn't a new issue.)

Hal Hartzell Jr. has done this most revered tree a great service by bringing together its history and present plight. Large pharmaceutical companies and the federal government are negotiating and renegotiating the fate of the remaining large yews in the Pacific Northwest. The medical profession has shown increasing interest in taxol for treating several cancers, but particularly breast cancer.

The yew's fame may be considered a blessing. Before the tree was enlisted in the anti-cancer crusade and acquired great economic value, it was often cut and burned as loggers cleared old-growth forests. Now it will be cut even more frequently but used. And with economic value comes a reason to conserve, nurture, and grow more yew. This particular part of the story is an implication of this book but not a central subject.

The most important service this book provides is giving readers a wonderfully readable portrait of a single tree's role in history. The history itself becomes a reason for preserving this tree. Here is a good example of education creating what economists call "value added."
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Forests
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kaufman, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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