It is a strongly shade-tolerant evergreen tree, sometimes reaching a large size; heights of over 30 m and diameters of nearly 2 m have been recorded.
The Himalayan yew is found in Nepal between 2300 and 4400 m, often as an understorey tree. It is particularly characteristic of Abies spectabilis forest, especially on limestone, but is found associated with Picea smithiana, Tsuga dumosa, Pinus wallichiana and Quercus semecarpifoiia, particularly at higher altitudes. It extends into the rather dry inner valleys of the Humla-Jumla area, for example at Lake Rara and Simikot.
The seed, contained in a bright red berry-like fruit, ripens in November. There are about 8000 seeds kg-1, and they can be stored for several years in tins in cold storage.
After the seed has been removed from the pulp it should be stratified in sand over winter, in a cool place, and sown directly into polythene pots in the following spring. Germination often takes a long time, and growth is slow, so that the seedlings will need two years or more in the nursery before they can be planted out. Taxus baccata can also be propagated from cuttings.
Its growth is very slow. The mean diameter increment of naturally growing trees ranges from 1 to 4 mm. The tree is very long-lived.
The wood is hard, fine and even-grained, and moderately heavy (about 700 kg m-3). In India it is used for carrying poles, bows and furniture; wood of the European species is used for turnery and fine furniture but is very scarce. In Europe the leaves are poisonous to cattle, but in parts of the western Himalaya the trees are lopped for cattle fodder.
According to Brandis (1921) green twigs are used to decorate houses in Nepal during religious festivals.