Cunninghamia lanceolata

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foliage at Strybing Arboretum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.
© J.S. Peterson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Foliage at Strybing Arboretum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.
© J.S. Peterson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Local names:
Chinese (sha,zhengmu,shashu,shanmu,shamu,cisha,zhengsha,mutoushu), English (Chinese fir,China fir), French (sapin de chine), Japanese (koyo-zan zoku), Trade name (pigao,shagan,shatiao), Vietnamese (sa moc,sa mu)

Cunninghamia lanceolata is an evergreen tree to 30 m tall and 2.5-3 m dbh. The crown is  pyramidal or dark green. The branches are in whorls of 5-6 together, spreading and pendulous at the ends. Bark dark brown, fissured, shedding in long strips and exposing aromatic, yellowish or reddish inner bark.

Leaves stiff, densely and spirally arranged, but spreading in 2 ranks, glossy deep green adaxially, linear-lanceolate, straight or slightly falcate, 3-6.5 cm long by 1.5-5 mm thick by 0.3-1.2 mm wide, with finely serrated margins.

Male and female flowers in separate clusters at the end of the shoots. Pollen cone fascicles terminal, broadly obovoid, 1-3(-5) together, each with 8-20 cones, occasionally a few also around base of seed cone; peduncle 2-4 mm.

Female cones ovoid or rounded, 2.5-5 cm long by 3-4 cm wide, solitary or several together; cone-scales brown with serrate margin and the apex elongated into a spine. The female cones are normally situated lower in the crown than the male cones.

Seed on each scale, thin, dark brown, oblong or narrowly ovate, 7-8 mm long and 4-5 mm wide, surrounded by a thin membranous wing.

The genus name is after James Cunninghame, , a British doctor in China, who collected (1701-2) and sent plants to England. The specific name ‘lanceolata’ is derived from a Latin word ‘lanceolatus’, meaning ‘having lance-shaped leaves’.


C. lanceolata is usually found in evergreen and deciduous mixed forests. In the southern China, it’s found in moist monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forests while in central China, it occasionally can be found in secondary forests. It is tolerant to frost although young trees may suffer damage below –15°C.

Native range
Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam

Tree management

C. lanceolata is a fast growing species and coppices well. It is topophytic, meaning if cuttings are taken from lateral growth, they grow laterally and if taken from vertical growth, they grow vertically. It also sprouts from the roots if cut down. It requires protection from windswept sites.

In plantation establishment, site preparation includes tillage to a depth of 20-30 cm. Initial stocking rate is 2500-3600 stems/ha. Tending should be carried out 2-3 times during the growing season in each of the first 3 years after planting. Pruning is not usually practiced. In forests, the lower branches eventually self-prune when the tree canopy closes. Thinning 2- 3 times is done according to initial density and growth. About 1500 trees/ha are retained as a final crop.

It produces good height growth from 3-10 years, with mean annual increment of 0.5-1 m height up to 3 cm. Volume growth occurs at 30-35 years old when the mean annual height increment decreases to 0.2-0.3 m/yr. Total harvest volume is estimated at 500-800 m3/ha.

The optimal time for harvest is 2-3 weeks after seed ripening, when the cones have turned from dark green to yellow brown. The cones are harvested using long hooks. The yield is usually 30-50 g seeds/kg of dry cone. After harvest, the seeds are after-ripened in shade for one week.

Seeds storage behaviour is orthodox. If stored in airtight containers, the seeds normally retain full viability for one year. They can be stored at 5°C and 8-10% moisture content to prolong viability. There are 130000-150000 seeds/kg.

C. lanceolata is usually found in evergreen and deciduous mixed forests. In the southern China, it’s found in moist monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forests while in central China, it occasionally can be found in secondary forests. It is tolerant to frost although young trees may suffer damage below –15°C.

C. lanceolata is normally propagated by seeds and cuttings or suckers. Seeds are sown in seed beds where germination begins 7 days later. The seedlings are pricked out into poly-tubes. If seeds are sown just after harvest in October-November they are ready for transplanting into the field in February-April when they attain 35-40 cm height.

Vegetative propagation of this species is relatively easy. Most planting stock is from coppices of basal stumps after felling. Nursery seedlings, however, have faster early growth and better survival than coppice sprouts. The cuttings are collected from the root collar when they are about 10 cm tall. They  are placed in rooting beds and can have a survival rate of 90-95%. The quality of cuttings is similar to that of seedling stocks. Cuttings from lateral shoots are not suitable.

It is suitable for reforestation in subtropical evergreen, coniferous and mixed broad-leaved forests

The species produces quality firewood.

Timber: The desirable wood properties make it an important timber species. In China, it accounts for 20-30% of the total commercial timber production. The pale yellow to white wood has straight grains, soft but durable, uniform-textured and has a density 0.4-0.5. it is easily to work, strongly resistant to rot and resistant to insects and termites. It is used for house construction, poles, bridges, boats, vehicles, building and furniture. The older and larger branches are used in turnery.

Tannin or dyestuff: The bark is used for tannin production.

Medicine: Traditionally, the Chinese valued this tree for its many medicinal properties. A wood decoction was used as a bath for fetid (smelly) feet. The decoction was ingested for lacquer poisoning, to help chronic ulcers, cholera, and even alleviate flatulence. An essential oil made from the stem was for bruises, pain from rheumatism, and wounds. Similarly, the ash from old bark was applied to burns, scalds, and wounds. A decoction from the cones was taken as a cough remedy

Ornamental: It is widely used for landscaping in public gardens, along the roads, parks and temples because of its fast growth, beautiful crown shape, and resistance to pests and diseases

Intercropping: It is a suitable species for agroforestry systems in China as it is usually intercropped with a number of crops such as maize, beans, wheat, Chinese sorghum, buckwheat, potato, 'ground chestnut' (Arachis hypogaea), tobacco and upland rice or with other tree species such as the tung oil tree (Aleurites fordii), tea and Litsea cubeba. The interplanting is important not only to increase the income of farmers during early stages of plantations but also to avoid the land degradation that results from continuous cropping of C. lanceolata.

Essential oil: The branches produce an essential oil used in the perfume industry. Cedrol, pinene, phellandrene, citrene, terpinol, thujenol, cadinol and borneol are the main constituents of the essential oil