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line drawing

Line drawing, var. konishii (Li 1975).


Foliage on a tree (var. konishii) in the Seattle arboretum. Image height 25 cm [C.J. Earle].

bark photograph

Bark on the above tree. Image width 25 cm [C.J. Earle].


Foliage and pollen cones on an ornamental tree [C.J. Earle].

See also photos at the Flora of China.


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Conservation status

Cunninghamia lanceolata

(Lambert) Hooker 1827

Common names

China fir, KOYO-ZAN ZOKU (Japanese) (Walker 1976), shan mu shan mu (Chinese) (Wu and Raven 1999), Sa moc, Sa mu (Vietnamese) (FIPI 1996).

Taxonomic notes

Cunninghamia is generally regarded as the basal clade in Cupressaceae, i.e., the most "primitive" surviving member of the Cupressaceae. This is apparent in the molecular phylogenetic trees created by both Brunsfeld et al. (1994) and Gadek et al. (2000). Most authors treat it as a genus of two similar species, C. konishii of Taiwan and C. lanceolata of mainland Asia, although more recent studies have identified C. konishii in (mainland) China and Vietnam as well. Lu et al. (1999) analysed chloroplast DNA for samples from four different sources in mainland China and four different sources in Taiwan, finding that both species were paraphyletic. The Flora of China (Wu and Raven 1999) treats lanceolata and konishii as varieties of C. lanceolata, but Farjon (2005, 2010) and Eckenwalder (2009) treat them as two separate species, and I probably should as well. That change awaits a more detailed revision of this page. For now they are described as varieties.

Cunninghamia R. Brown ex Richard & A. Richard in A. Richard 1826 is thus a monotypic genus represented by C. lanceolata (Lambert) Hooker 1827. It has two varieties, C. lanceolata var. lanceolata and C. lanceolata var. konishii (Hayata) Fujita.

Synonymy for var. lanceolata: Pinus lanceolata Lambert 1803, Belis jaculifolia Salisbury, B. lanceolata (Lambert) Hoffmannsegg, Cunninghamia chinensis de Vos, C. lanceolata var. corticosa Z.Y. Que & J.X. Li, C. sinensis R. Brown ex Richard & A. Richard, C. unicanaliculata D.Y. Wang & H.L. Liu, C. unicanaliculata var. pyramidalis D.Y. Wang & H.L. Liu; ?Larix chinensis Miller (1768) not Beissner (1896), Raxopitys cunninghamii J. Nelson (Wu and Raven 1999).

Synonymy for var. konishii: Cunninghamia konishii Hayata 1908, C. kawakamii Hayata (Wu and Raven 1999).


Trees to 50 m tall and 300 cm dbh, with conical or pyramidal, dark green crowns. Bark dark gray to dark brown, or reddish brown, longitudinally fissured, cracking into irregular flakes and exposing a aromatic, yellowish or reddish inner bark. Branches whorled, spreading, pendulous at the ends. Leaves stiff, densely and spirally arranged, but spreading in 2 ranks, glossy deep green adaxially, narrowly linear-lanceolate, straight or slightly falcate, 0.8-6.5(-7) cm × 1.5-5 mm, midvein green abaxially, 0.3-1.2 mm wide, flat with median longitudinal keel throughout, stomatal bands present on both surfaces, bands on adaxial surface 0.5-1.5 mm wide, of 7-28 rows of stomata, white powdery or not, bands on abaxial surface 1.2-2.8 mm apart, 0.3-0.8(-1) mm from leaf margin, not or rarely white powdery, base decurrent, margin denticulate, sometimes indistinctly so, especially on old trees, with 18-55(-90) teeth per side, apex usually symmetric and spinescent, spine 0.3-2 mm. Pollen cone fascicles terminal, 1-3(-5) together, broadly obovoid, each of 8-20 cones, occasionally a few also around base of seed cone; peduncle 2-4 mm; cones narrowly oblong-conical. Seed cones terminal, 1-4 together, at pollination shortly cylindric-ovoid, ca. 12 × 8 mm, green, later turning brown-reddish and becoming ovoid or subglobose, 1.8-4.5 × 1.2-4 cm; bracts coriaceous, glaucous or glossy, broadly ovate or triangular-ovate, base with short claw 1/5-1/2 × total length of bract, distal part gradually narrowed toward pointed apex, 1/14-1/5 × total length of bract. Seeds 3 per scale, dark brown, oblong or narrowly ovate, 5-6 × ca. 4 mm, narrowly winged laterally. Pollination Jan-May, seed maturity Aug-Nov, cotyledons 2 (Li 1975, Walker 1976, FIPI 1996, Wu and Raven 1999).

"A very variable species: specimens occur with spinescent or obtuse leaf apices and with or without white stomatal bands on the adaxial leaf surface. The latter character is at least partly dependent on the age of the tree and the position of the leaf on the tree: leaves exposed to sunlight have less conspicuous adaxial stomatal bands than those in shade, as do leaves of old trees. Variants also occur with strongly glaucous leaves" (Wu and Raven 1999).

Var. lanceolata

Abaxial stomatal bands of leaves with (14-)16-28 rows of stomata; seed cones 2.5-4.5 × 2.5-4 cm.

Var. konishii

Abaxial stomatal bands of leaves with 7-15(-20) rows of stomata; seed cones 1.8-3 × 1.2-2.5 cm.

Distribution and Ecology

China, Vietnam, Laos, perhaps Cambodia; widely introduced in Japan, and widely planted throughout China, so that its original native distribution is not known.

Var. lanceolata occurs in China: Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang; Vietnam (N), and perhaps Cambodia and Laos. It is also widely introduced in Taiwan. Habitat includes forests, rocky hillsides and roadsides at 200-2800 m elevation (Wu and Raven 1999). It often grows as a forest dominant, and competes best on well drained sandy and loamy soils (FIPI 1996).

Var. konishii occurs in mixed broad-leaved forests or forms small pure stands, frequently associated with Chamaecyparis formosensis and C. obtusa var. formosana, often planted, at 1300-2000 m elevation in China: Fujian, C and N Taiwan, N Laos, and perhaps Vietnam (Wu and Raven 1999).

This species is can be grown from rooted cuttings, a feature it shares with some of its relatives (e.g. Sequoia), but not with most conifers (Li and Ritchie 1999a, 1999b).

The type variety is hardy to Zone 7 (cold hardiness limit between -17.7°C and -12.2°C); var. konishii is hardy to Zone 9 (cold hardiness limit between -6.6°C and -1.1°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree

The only tree for which I have seen a measurement is on ornamental specimen in Capitol Park, Sacramento, California which was 31.7 m tall and 88 cm dbh (104 feet tall and 108.75 inch girth) in 2007 (Arthur L. Jacobson e-mail 2007.08.24).




The wood is pale yellow to white, density 0.4-0.5, soft but durable, easily worked, and resistant to insects and termites. It is used in house-building, for furniture, floor, panels, packaging, and coffins. It is suitable for reforestation and planting along the roads of mountainous provinces, in subtropical evergreen, coniferous and mixed broad-leaved forests (FIPI 1996). It is the most important fast-growing timber tree of the warm regions S of the Chang Jiang valley; it is propagated by seed, cuttings, or suckers. The wood is strongly resistant to rot, is not eaten by termites, and is easily worked; it is used in constructing buildings, bridges, ships, and lamp posts, in furniture manufacture, and for wood fiber (Wu and Raven 1999).

Eisenberg et al. (2009) studied the sustainable harvest of Cunninghamia by the Kam people, who inhabit the mountains in the Guizhou-Hunan-Guangxi (China) borderlands. They report that "Before 1949, the Kam of Guangxi Province practiced a widespread tradition whereby on the first day of spring, fathers brought their sons to the hillsides to plant ten Cunninghamia lanceolata saplings each." For centuries these people harvested Cunninghamia, debarked and seasoned the logs in the mountains, and then tied them into rafts for delivery down the Qingshui River to markets. The wood was marketed, as was the bark, which was used as a roofing material and as a covering for fish nests in pond aquaculture. Regrettably, this tradition was ended in 2006 with the damming of the river downstream of the village of Caiyuan. John Amato has a page of excellent photographs documenting these traditional logging and rafting activities by the Kam people.


Var. lanceolata:

Fairly common in the mountains of Sichuan, e.g. the ranges east of the Dadu River (where I have seen it).

Taroko National Park in Taiwan also looks like an interesting place to see it. Other Taiwan locations, recorded in the HAST Database, include:

Hualien Xian: Taroko National Park: en route from Hsinpiyang to Pilu. Elevation 1500-2050 m.

Xinchu Xian: Wufeng Hsiang: between Tuchang and Kuanwu. Broadleaf forest; vast slope cleared for Prunus orchard. Elevation 1300 m.

Nantou Xian: Jenai Hsiang: National Chung Hsing. University Hui-Sun Experimental Forest. Along the forest road to Tang-kungpei; mixed coniferous-broadleaf forest. 121°02'17"E, 24°05'20"N. Elevation:600-800 m. Forest roadside. Plantation tree ca. 15-20 m tall; DBH ca. 10-20 cm cone ca. 2.5 cm diameter.

Var. konishii:

N Laos (Houa phan province) has one location, in a small pure stand of montane forest.

In Vietnam, specimens have only been collected at Bu Huong mountain (Nghe An prov.), in dense subtropical forest, mixed with Chamaecyparis hodginsii, Dacrydium elatum, and Quercus bambusaefolia (FIPI 1996).

For Taiwan, the HAST Database reports the following collections:

Miaoli Xian: Kuanwu. Specimens collected from cultivated trees. Elev 2000 m.

Xinchu Xian: Wufeng Hsiang: Shihlu Village. Secondary broadleaf forest. 121°19'15"E, 24°05'52"N. Elevation 1485-1565 m. At edge of Cryptomeria plantation. Tree ca. 2 m tall; cones immature, green.

Ilan Xian: Tatung Xiang: Chilanshan. near the river valley by 170 forest Rd. 1/2 K. Elevation 1800 m. In Cunninghamia konishii cut over forest. Tree ca. 70 cm dbh.


This genus was named for two men. In the words of Robert Brown (1866), who described the genus, "In communicating specimens of this plant to the late M. Richard, for his intended monograph of Coniferae, I added some remarks on its structure, agreeing with those here made. I at the same time requested that, if he objected to Mr. Salisbury's Belis as liable to be confounded with Bellis, the genus might be named Cunninghamia, to commemorate the merits of Mr. James Cunningham, an excellent observer in his time, by whom this plant was discovered; and in honour of Mr. Allan Cunningham, the very deserving botanist who accompanied Mr. Oxley in his first expedition into the interior of New South Wales, and Captain King in all his voyages of survey of the Coasts of New Holland." Allan Cunningham is also commemorated in two other conifer families, through Araucaria cunninghamii and Podocarpus cunninghamii.


Brown, R. 1866. The Miscellaneous Botanical Works of Robert Brown (etc.)., V. 1. London: The Ray Society (p. 479). Available: Biodiversity Heritage Library, accessed 2013.01.10.

Eisenberg, Amy, John Amato, and Dengtao. 2009. Kam Guilzhouh nyim Guangxxih di Benxtux Wenchual nyim Zihyuanc dih Gonxliix: Kam Local Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Resource Management in Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces, China. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7:67-113.

Hayata, B. 1908. New Conifers from Formosa. Gardeners' Chronicle ser. 3, 43:194. Available: Google Books, accessed 2012.10.29.

Li, M. and Ritchie, G.A. 1999a. Eight hundred years of clonal forestry in China: I. traditional afforestation with Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook.). New Forests 18:131-142.

Li, M. and Ritchie, G.A. 1999b. Eight hundred years of clonal forestry in China: II. Mass production of rooted cuttings of Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook.). New Forests 18:143-159.

See also

Hiep et al. 2004 (as C. konishii).

Huang 1994 (the Flora of Taiwan; as C. konishii).

Luu and Thomas 2004, who treat var. konishii as a species, provides a more current description, range map, conservation status, drawings and photos, and a wealth of additional information on it.

Mueller-Starck, G. and Liu Y.Q. 1988. Genetics of Cunninghamia lanceolata Hook: 1. Genetic analysis. Silvae Genetica 37(5-6):236-243.

Mueller-Starck, G. and Liu Y.Q. 1989. Genetics of Cunninghamia lanceolata Hook. 2. Genetic variation within and between two provenance samples. Silvae Genetica 38(5-6):172-177.

Yeh F.C., Shi J., Yang R., Hong J. and Ye Z. 1994. Genetic diversity and multilocus associations in Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook from the People's Republic of China. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 88(3-4):465-471.

Lu SY, Peng CI, Cheng-YP, Hong KH, Chiang TY. 2001. Chloroplast DNA phylogeography of Cunninghamia konishii (Taxodiaceae), an endemic conifer of Taiwan. Genome 44:797-807.

Last Modified 2016-12-10