Gardening Magazine

Plant of the Week: Cunninghamia Lanceolata

By Davis Landscape Architecture @DavisLandArch
Cunninghamia lanceolata detail (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

Cunninghamia lanceolata detail (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

Position: Full sun to partial shade

Flowering period: Insignificant, male flowers in May

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Eventual Height: 25m

Eventual Spread: 9m

Hardiness: USDA Zones 6b – 9b

Family: Cupressaceae

Cunninghamia lanceolata is an evergreen coniferous tree with a columnar, upright habit with drooping branches. The leaves of the tree are softly spined, leathery, stiff green to blue green in color and are needle like, whilst being spirally arranged. They are 2 – 7 centimeters long and 3 – 5 millimeters broad at the base, bearing two white or greenish white stomatal  bands underneath and sometimes also above. The tree is monoecious, the pollen cones are small and inconspicuous and produced in May. The seed cones are green initially, turning brown with age. The bark is dark gray to reddish brown, longitudinally fissured , then cracking into irregular flakes and exposing an aromatic, yellowish or reddish inner bark. The branches are whorled, spreading and pendulous at the ends. 

Cunninghamia lanceolata bark (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

Cunninghamia lanceolata bark (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

Cunninghamia lanceolata, commonly known as Chinese Fir, is native to China, Taiwan, and northern Vietnam, where they can reach heights of up to 50 – 55 metres. It is grown as an ornamental tree in many parks around the UK. The tree was discovered in 1701 but not introduced into Britain for another century in 1804. This tree has historically been called Pinus lanceolataBelis jaculifolia, Belis lanceolata, Cunninghamia chinensis, Cunninghamia sinensis, Cunninghamia unicanaliculata and Raxopitys cunninghamii. The wood of this tree is prized and it will tolerate copicing.

Cunninghamia lanceolata (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

Cunninghamia lanceolata (12/11/2011, Kew, London)

The etymological root of the binomial name Cunninghamia is named after the British Doctor, Dr. James Cunningham, who introduced this species into cultivation in 1702. Lanceolata is derived from the Latin lancea ’a light spear’ or ‘lance’ referring to the leaves of the tree.

Cunninghamia lanceolata may be useful to the landscape architect as a large, evergreen, attractive specimen tree in a parkland setting. It does not like exposure to drying winds.

C. lanceolata prefers moist but well drained soil. It can tolerate most soil pH types. 

Maintenance: This plant requires little maintenance.

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