The China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) is an evergreen conifer that is not a fir but belongs to the cypress family. It is native to China. The tree is probably named after the botanist James Cunningham who traveled for the British East Indian Company to China in 1702 and discovered the tree. Cunningham was also the first Westerner to provide an accurate description of the tea plant. Because of the tree’s tall pyramidal or spear-like shape it is also named ‘lanceolota’ . The glossy deep green needles are pointed and stiff. They are densely and spirally arranged. Small oval reddish brown cones with pointed scales appear in groups at the end of the shoots. The tree has brown bark with fissures that reveal brown-red inner bark. The tree is used as a lumber source in China producing soft, highly durabel scented wood; used in coffin and temple productions.
Common name: China Fir
Scientific Name (family and order): Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook. (Cupressaceae, Cupressales)
Species Origin: China, Northern Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
New Jersey Status: USDA Unreported
Habit: 169 feet, conical shaped, tiered with horizontal branches that are often pendulous towards the tips.
Habitat: Zone 7 – 9.
Trunk/Stem: The tree tends to sucker around the base so the trunk is often multiple. Bark brown, scaling off in long irregular strips exposing the reddish inner bark. Cunninghamia undergoes cladoptopsis a process of shedding branchs as well as leaves during its annual growth cycle. Typically such branches collect at the base of the tree.
Leaves: Evergreen. Blue-green needle-like leaves that spiral around the stem with an upward arch; they are 2 – 7 cm long and 3 – 5 mm broad, flat, very sharply pointed, bearing two white or greenish-white stomatal bands abaxial and sometimes adaxial. In contrast to the look-alike Torreya laxifolia, Cunninghamia leaves do not smell.
Flowers: Monoecious; male flowers in terminal clusters, female flowers terminal.
Fruits and seeds: Cones upright, small and inconspicuous at pollination in later winter, the pollen cones in clusters of 10 – 30; the female cones in cluster of 2 -3. Seed cones mature in 7 – 8 months to a 2.5 – 4.5 cm long ovoid to globose with spirally arranged scales; each scale bears 3 -5 seeds and central prickle. The cones are often on a long shoot (peduncle).