Taxus wallichiana, the East Himalayan Yew, is a large tree that is found throughout the Himalayan region in northern India (Sikkim), Myanmar, Bhutan, China (Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces), southern Vietnam and Tibet where the tree was first recorded. This species is found in both tropical and subtropical montane forests over an altitude of 900m above sea-level.
Despite having a wide distribution, the population of this species has witnessed major declines in the previous 25 years due to logging and harvesting of the plant for medicine extraction, and the population is still declining. This has resulted in T. wallichiana being classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The remaining populations are fragmented and show slow, poor natural regeneration. In the wild, stands of this species cluster together, however they don’t form pure forests. As a result of this fragmentation and poor regeneration there are now more numerous young-stage individuals than mature trees in the wild.
This species is notable for its excellent timber and as a source of the natural chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (also known as Taxol) used to combat numerous cancers. It also provides excellent environmental services as it is remarkably good at absorbing some poisonous gases such as formaldehyde and is able to absorb CO2 and release oxygen throughout the day and night by utilising the crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) mechanism.
Funding for this project will allow for urgent survey and monitoring work to examine the true extent of the remaining populations of T. wallichiana. From here work will begin to propagate and reintroduce more than 1,000 individuals of this species and more than 10,000 individuals of related species into ecological restoration sites. Once established, these restoration sites will be used as bases for scientific education. In order to enhance public engagement with the protection of this species, ecological restoration and other threatened species popular science programmes will be carried out.