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What is Cunninghamia?

By Koren Allen
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Cunninghamia, also known as China Fir, is a tall, fast-growing evergreen tree cultivated extensively in China, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, and Taiwan. Cunninghamia includes two different varieties from the cypress family Cupressaceae: C. lanceolata and C. konishii. Until the late 1990s, these were considered different species; however, most recent DNA testing suggests that they are the same, and are most commonly grouped under the name C. lanceolata. This fast-growing tree can reach 75 feet (22.86 m) high, with a spread of 30 feet (9.14 m). It is important as a timber crop in China, but can also be used as an ornamental species in a large landscape.

It is thought that Cunninghamia is native to China, Vietnam, and Laos, but it has also been extensively cultivated in these areas, so the original native area of the tree is not clear. It has been planted in Taiwan and Japan with success, and will grow in other regions of the world that share a similar mid-latitude climate. Cunninghamia is grown on plantations in China, but it can also be found in roadside and hillside plantings throughout Asia.

China fir is a large tree, normally with a single vertical trunk covered with gray or dark brown bark. The needles range from a light blue-silver to bright lemon-lime, depending on the variety. It produces small cones, and its needles may take on a bronze hue in fall and winter. Cunninghamia generally has a conical or pyramidal shape, and the open crown gives it an airy appearance. It often forms suckers at its base, and multi-trunks are not uncommon.

Wood from the China fir is valued as timber for a number of reasons. The soft wood has a pleasant scent, is light in both color and weight, and versatile because it is easy to work. It has been used in house and ship building for its durability, but it has many ornamental uses as well, including fencing, siding, decking, and furniture. The wood from Cunninghamia is naturally attractive, with a light yellow or reddish color. It also takes a wide range of stain colors, offering even more versatility in the look of the finished product.

Besides its extensive use as a timber crop, China fir has also been used extensively in reforestation projects in China. It grows fast, is highly resistant to pests and drought tolerant, and will grow in even poor clay soils. Cunninghamia is also planted along roads as a windscreen, and on hillsides to help prevent erosion.

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