The western yew is a low spreading small tree, reaching heights up to 20 m, the trunk is twisted and becomes very wide near the base, covered in moss, and is a dark reddish-purple in color, with horizontally spreading branches. Needles are 2 cm long, flat, and arranged spirally on branches. The needles are twisted and this makes it look like there are 2 rows of needles.
The seed and pollen cones usually grow on separate trees and the fruit consists of a light red cup that is open at one end and contains a single seed. Thin, dark reddish purplish scales peel off the trunk to show the deep purple under the bark.
It occurs scattered throughout the wetter forests of the coast and the Interior wet belt, primarily at low to mid-elevations. You can find it on all of Vancouver Island.
The western yew is an important food for black-tailed deer, elk, and several birds including cedar waxwings and nuthatches and various small rodents eat the fruit. In so doing, they scatter the seed away from the tree.