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Cunninghamia lanceolata

Cunninghamia lanceolata - China fir, Chinese fir
  • Cunninghamia lanceolata - China fir, Chinese fir - Click to enlarge
  • Cunninghamia lanceolata cones - Click to enlarge
  • Cunninghamia lanceolata leaves - Click to enlarge


Scientific name: Cunninghamia lanceolata  (A.Lambert) W.J. Hooker  1827

Synonyms: Abies batavorum Siebold ex Carrière, Abies lanceolata (Lamb.) Poir., Belis jaculifolia Salisb., Belis lanceolata (Lamb.) Hoffmanns., Cunninghamia chinensis de Vos, Cunninghamia jaculifolia (Salisb.) Druce, Cunninghamia sinensis R.Br., Cunninghamia unicanaliculata D.Y.Wang & H.L.Liu, Larix chinensis Mill., Pinus abies Lour., Pinus lanceolata Lamb., Raxopitys cunninghamii J.Nelson

Common names: China fir, Chinese fir (English), Shan mu (Chinese)



Tree to 25(-30)-40 m tall, with trunk to 3 m in diameter. Trunk monopodial, often buttressed in old trees, readily resprouting (coppice or pollard trees), up to 2.5-3 m d.b.h. Bark on trunk fissured, fibrous, exfoliating in long strips, reddish brown weathering to dull brown. Branches in whorls, long, slender, spreading to ascending near the top), forming a pyramidal to finally irregular, rounded crown. Higher order branches spreading or drooping, 3rd and 4th order branches plagiotropic (but profuse reiteration after damage obscures this arrangement). Foliage branches numerous, slender, branching (nearly) opposite, lateral branchlets deciduous. Leaves decurrent at slightly narrowed base, free part curved or twisted into a more or less pectinate arrangement with stomatal face on underside, flattened, lanceolate-linear, straight or curved, gradually tapering to a pungent apex. Margins serrulate, 30-60 × 3-5(-6) mm, hypostomatic, with stomata in 2 broad glaucous white bands of 10-35 irregular lines separated by a green slightly elevated midrib; adaxial surface smooth, with 2 shallow lateral grooves, lustrous green. Pollen cones (sub)terminal on foliage branches, numerous in clusters subtended by a pseudo-whorl of bract-like short leaves, 10-20 × 3-5 mm, yellowish green turning brown. Microsporophylls 50 or more, spirally arranged on a slender axis, peltate. Margins erose-denticulate, apex obtuse to acute, bearing 3(-4) abaxial, large, oblong pollen sacs on lower margin. Seed cones subterminal, solitary or in clusters of 2-several, maturing within 1 year, persistent (falling with foliage branches), mature cones ovoid-globose, 25-40 × 25-35 mm, turning lustrous reddish brown. Bract-scale complexes spirally arranged on a thin axis, persistent, imbricate, appressed at base, spreading distally at maturity, more or less triangular with a pedicellate base, coriaceous. Margins denticulate, apex cuspidate to rostrate, abaxial surface smooth, more or less keeled towards apex, adaxial surface with 2-3 seed marks at the distal end of the seed-bearing tissue. Seeds usually 2 per fertile scale, obovate, flat, 6-7 × 4-5 mm, brown with a light hilum near base and 2 marginal wings 1-2 mm wide leaving an emarginate seed apex. Teratism in the form of 'shoot proliferation frequent.

After James Cunningham (he spelled his name Cuninghame), a surgeon/botanist. In 1698 he was sent to China by the East India Co. "He was the first Englishman (actually a Scotsman) to make botanical collections in China" (Dictonary of National Biography). He sent over 600 Chinese botanical specimens to Britain. He discovered Cunninghamia lanceolata in 1701.

Central and southern China with outliers in northern Vietnam. Widespread on slopes in various forest communities and in plantations; (140-)250-2,500(-3,000) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

The species is very widely distributed and cultivated throughout southern China and adjacent countries. It is very difficult to distinguish between areas where it is naturalized and areas where it is truly indigenous. Throughout its range there is no evidence of decline and as a result it is assessed as Least Concern.

Wang (1961) considered Cunninghamia lanceolata to be a coniferous constituent of the Mixed Mesophytic Forest Formation of the warm temperate regions of China. This is predominantly a deciduous angiosperm-dominated forest in which no particular species dominate and conifers form a minor but fairly constant component. Almost all of the original forest has disappeared under the long-lasting influence of a dense rural population. In remnants of natural vegetation, e.g. Tienmu Shan in Zhejiang, it occurs with numerous species in Acer, Magnolia, Quercus, and other angiosperms. The conifers mentioned for this mountain are in part natural understorey species of this forest type, i.e. Cephalotaxus fortunei, Pseudotaxus chienii, Taxus chinensis, and Torreya grandis. However, most of the other conifers mentioned to occur in it are either introduced in Zhejiang (Cryptomeria japonica (Farjon 1999), Cupressus funebris), or not typical for old growth of this forest type, but for secondary vegetation (e.g. Juniperus formosana, Pinus massoniana, and Pinus tabuliformis). Many habitat notes on herbarium sheets of Cunninghamia lanceolata mention forest, forest edges, light woodland, rocky slopes, and scrub, most of which indicate secondary vegetation.

This species has been widely cultivated in southern China for forestry and amenity purposes for several millenia. Its uses vary: from timber to firewood and horticultural, with amenity planting in Chinese cities and parks as well as botanical collections and gardens in other countries. The wood is light, soft, fragrant, almost white, and durable. Large sizes are milled for construction timber in houses, for masts, carpentry and planks for coffins. In the past, wood buried in landslides was reported to be dug up and as it was darker, was much valued for coffins. In Europe a few cultivars, primarily producing dwarfed habits, have been selected but the tree is most commonly seen in arboreta as the species. In China advantage is taken of its capacity to coppice, i.e. grow new stems from cut tree stumps and roots, and much of this is used as firewood.

No specific threats have been identified for this species. The capacity to coppice and relative intolerance to shade will ensure its survival in cutover forest areas. It is also widely planted in afforestation projects throughout warm temperate China and beyond. This species is present in protected areas, e.g. Jinggangshan in Jiangxi Province, China.



Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Aurea’                                      
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Bánó’                                       
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Chason’s Gift’                        
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Compacta’                              
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Dwarf’                                    
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Glauca’                                    
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Glauca Pendula’                    
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Globus’                                   
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Greer’s Dwarf’                     
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Jókék’                             
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Lemon Lime’                          
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Mollifolia’                               
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Nana’                                     
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Nelli’                                        
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Prostrate Blue Form’              
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Raraflora’                              
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Samurai’                                 
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Sopronhorpács’                     
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Starling's Dwarf’                  
Cunninghamia lanceolata ’Tom Dodd’



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

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