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Distribution AFGHANISTAN; CHINA: Xixang; INDIA; NEPAL: western; PAKISTAN. Habitat Forest, between 1800 and 3400 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7 (?). Conservation status Vulnerable (IUCN); also included on CITES Appendix 2.
The yews of the Himalayan chain have traditionally been treated as Taxus wallichiana (see, for example, Farjon 2001), but in 1997 a new taxon – T. fuana – was described, on morphological evidence, and said to occupy the range indicated above. This position was adopted by Fu et al. (1999d) in Flora of China; Farjon (2001), however, while accepting the species as valid, considered it to occur only in southwestern Tibet. To complicate matters further, Spjut’s (2007) research has unearthed the prior name T. contorta Griff., but it remains to be seen whether others will concur and adopt this name (much the oldest) for the Western Himalayan Yew. Recent investigations using morphological and molecular data from a large sample of material have shown that T. fuana is distinct from both T. baccata (to which the yews of the western Himalaya have been ascribed) and T. wallichiana; each also occupies a discrete distribution (Shah et al. 2008). As so often in Taxus, even in this case where morphological characters are well supported by DNA evidence, the visible recognition characters remain rather tenuously distinct, though the species are separable when a large sample is compared. Taxus fuana has, on average, 13.3 leaves per cm of a two- to three-year-old branch, compared with 9.9 in T. wallichiana and 11.5 in T. baccata. The leaves are also straighter, longer and narrower (mean length 32.4 mm, mean width 1.8 mm, compared to a curved 28.7 mm long, 2.3 mm wide in T. wallichiana). Their mean length to width ratio is 13.8, indicating that they are the longest and narrowest of any in the complex, and they have the lowest mean number of stomatal bands (7.7). The differences are tabulated by Möller et al. (2007) and Shah et al. (2008), for those who really want to know, but the principal distinction, once again, is distribution. All yews growing west of central Nepal, to the Afghan border, are attributable to T. fuana. From eastern Nepal eastwards they can be ascribed to T. wallichiana s.l., see p. 842). What happens in central Nepal is not entirely clear, but the two taxa seem to remain distinct even though there is a transition zone where they overlap (Möller et al. 2007). Taxus baccata is not known to occur further east than Iran.
As it seems that T. fuana is indeed a valid species, it is safe to say that it is in cultivation in gardens across our area, exemplified by trees grown from gatherings made in northern Pakistan (EPAK 146, collected in 1995) and Himachal Pradesh, India (H&M 1912, 1838, from 1994).