This is the upright form of the conifer Cephalotaxus harringtonia, sold as C. harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’. In its youth if forms a narrow upright column. The plant in the image was planted about fifty years ago, and like the person who planted it now grows sideways rather than upright. It’s now a relatively massive plant, and more than one visitor has mentioned that “that’s the biggest yew I’ve ever seen”. It’s not a yew, at least not in the sense of being a member of the genus Taxus: it’s a plum yew, a yew relative. Because this fastigiate form has its foliage in whorls, it does not really look like the typical wild forms of C. harringtonia. I know I’ve got a live one when a visitor, seriously contemplating this plant in an attempt to place it, avoids the obvious mistake of calling it a yew and instead asks “Is it some kind of Podocarpus?” That’s the kind of visitor I like!
Years ago the local mall had a group of the typical form planted at the major entrance to the mall. Once the plants settled in, they began to bloom and produce fruit. That was the end of it for them: the last time I saw them they were surrounded by sidewalks and streets spattered with the juicy, staining fruits.
Of course it’s not a rock garden plant, although you might be tempted to plant one to enjoy the distinctive foliage and growth form of the young plant. But it is the sort of plant some rock gardeners like: one which will catch the visitor’s eye and provoke conversation.