The enormous Discoed Yew belongs to the largest yew trees in the British Isles. Its circumference is 11.28 m or 9.68 m, depending on the information source.
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The giant yew north of the medieval St Michael’s Church in popular opinion is the oldest yew tree in Wales. No one knows this for sure – but it is believed that it is 5 000 years old.
This would make the Discoed Yew the oldest tree in the world… but, most likely, this is not true.
Ancient cult site?
Discoed is located close to the border of Wales and England and its name originates from this: it comes from ‘dic’ and ‘cot’ of Old English: “a cottage by Offa’s Dyke” (1).
The chapel in Discoed was first mentioned in 1291 and later (up to this day) this chapel was seen as a subsidiary to the main church in Presteigne parish – the amazing, ancient St Andrew’s Church in Presteigne some 5 kilometers to the east from Discoed.
The ancient yew trees (there are three) and a spring (now – a well) at the churchyard gate might show a hint of a much older shrine though. It is not uncommon to see medieval churches next to ancient trees that are older than the churches themselves – each of them might be a historical shrine or a well-known place for gatherings.
Giant yew trees around the church
Discoed Yew is a male tree. Now it does not have a single, massive trunk anymore. The central trunk has died long ago and several parts have been resprouted and are marking its outer rims – most likely, extending the size of the original trunk. In 1994 the measured circumference of all parts of the tree at the height of 90 cm was 11.28 m (source: “The Sacred Yew”, a book from 1995). Other measurements show a less impressive result, e.g. 968 cm (Ancient Yew Group). Thus, the real size is a bit unclear and newer data would help.
Enormous yew (female) is found also to the southwest of the church – it has a circumference of 6.71 m. Some 100 m to the south-east from the entrance of the church is one more large yew tree with a circumference of 3.94 m at a height of 0.9 m.
The age of the tree
Thus… how old is Discoed Yew?
The current estimate has been made by the yew tree enthusiast and researcher Allen Meredith. He made graphs that estimate the tree’s age by its size and further assumptions are based on these graphs.
Frankly – no one knows the age of the giant yews and, most likely, will never know. The common knowledge is that one can not judge the age of the tree from its size – the speed of tree growth may differ significantly, by multiple times. This speed is influenced by a multitude of accidental factors, such as soil fertility, groundwater regime, shadows, lightning, and storms.
Sometimes it is possible to find out the age of the tree by taking the core samples and counting the tree rings (if the tree is not in the tropical regions where are no discernible annual tree rings). But the core of Discoed Yew is long lost and the age of the current offspring will not show the total age of this tree.
Almost certainly, the tree is significantly older than the church: a lot more than 700 years old.
- The Friends of St Michael’s Discoed. Accessed on February 1, 2022
- Yew/Yews at Discoed, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on February 1, 2022
- Yew in St Michael’s churchyard, Discoed, Wales, United Kingdom, Monumental Trees. Accessed on February 1, 2022
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