Cunninghamia lanceolata (China-fir)
Species: Cunninghamia lanceolata
Common names: Cunnighamia, China-fir, KOYO-ZAN ZOKU (Japanese), shan mu shan mu (Chinese), Sa moc, Sa mu (Vietnamese).
The genus is traditionally said to contain two similar species, Cunninghamia lanceolata and C. konishii, often referred to as the China fir and Taiwan fir, respectively. C. lanceolata occurs in mainland China, Vietnam, and Laos, whereas C. konishii is restricted to Taiwan. However, molecular genetic evidence is suggesting that they are the same species, and that C. konishii of Taiwan derive from multiple colonizations from the mainland. As C. lanceolata was the first name published, this name takes priority if the two are combined. In that case, Taiwan fir becomes Cunninghamia lanceolata var. konishii. However, there is no consensus yet as to whether the two species should be combined.
The general shape of the tree is conical or pyramidal with a dark green crown. It has tiered, horizontal branches that are often somewhat pendulous toward the tips.
The bark is gray-brown on the outside, irregularly scaly and peeling to reveal the reddish brown inner bark.
Cunninghamia bears glossy blue-green, needle-like leaves that are stiff, densely and spirally around the stem with an upward arch. They are 2–7 cm long and 3–5 mm broad at the base, and bear two white or greenish-white stomatal bands underneath and sometimes also above. Older trees often look ragged, as the old needles may cling to stems for up to 5 years. The foliage may turn bronze-tinted in very cold winter weather.
The cones are small and inconspicuous at pollination in late winter, the pollen cones in clusters of 10–30 together, the female cones singly or 2–3 together. The seed cones mature in 7–8 months to 2.5–4.5 cm long, ovoid to globose, with spirally arranged scales; each scale bears 3–5 seeds. They are often proliferous (with a vegetative shoot growing on beyond the tip of the cone) on cultivated trees; this is rare in wild trees, and may be a cultivar selected for easy vegetative propagation for use in forestry plantations.
As the tree grows its trunk tends to sucker around the base, particularly following damage to the stem or roots, and it then may grow in a multi-trunked form.
Cunnighamia is a prized timber tree in China, producing soft, highly durable scented wood. The wood is pale yellow to white, soft but durable, easily worked and is resistant to insects and termites. It is used in particular for manufacture of coffins, furniture and in temple building where the scent is valued.
Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca', an attractive blue form photographed at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth.
Male pollen cones.
The mature seed cones.