Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday's Trees- China-fir, Cumminghamia lanceolate

Early in my tree knowledge I saw these two trees along the road on the property of a funeral home and not knowing what kind of tree it was, my first thought was Deodora Cedar….remember this is when I was still learning. A kind fellow Master Gardener and a Tree Steward told me it was a China Fir. Thanks Jackie! I had never heard of this tree prior to that. What a remarkable specimen we have!  I did not try to measure the height, but safe to say these are quite large.

My very kind husband was agreeable to stop and let me take lots of pictures yesterday. I had one photo from last fall, but had not walked up to the trees to really see them. We painted all weekend so I didn't have a chance to go earlier.

The Cunninghamia lanceolate is a native to China, first brought into cultivation in 1701, used as an ornamental in the US in the early 1800's. In its native environment there are specimen up to 150 feet tall though in the States most references say they grow to about 75 feet tall with a 20- 30 foot spread. Zones 6- 9 range, part shade to full sun, pyramidal shape with open branching make this tree one to consider in a number of places. It can sucker a bit but it has a straight true leader. It is drought tolerant and can handle a wide range of soil types.

The needles are green, hard, leathery, long (up to 2 inches long) and sharp. They grow in a spiral pattern along the stem. Some older stems turn brown and fall off and are replaced by new growth. This evergreen is monoecious with small flowers on tips of branches.

The cones are small and round opposed to barrel shaped like true firs. It is not a true fir but actually in the Cupressaceae family. The chart is on the Greenwood International site is quite helpful.

The bark is similar to cedars with the reddish brown shredded look. The timber is used for ship building and home building. The wood is slightly scented and highly prized for use in temples and coffins. While Googling this tree I found a number of sites that offer the timber.

This is winter growth of flower buds.
References- Floridata, good write up with a bit of its history—warning of fire prone areas –highly flammable tree with its leaf litter habit!
Forestry Service and University of Florida- once again, a great reference sheet with lots of information
Virginia Tech- good photos in a quick reference sheet.
Wikipedia- a site I don't often use, but lots of good information
And of course- MOBOT- a great site to use for many plants!

Next week's tree-- Ilex opaca, American Holly

words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.


  1. Beautiful tree. Too bad about the flammability, although I'm sure it's perfectly safe planted a good distance away from buildings. Interestingly, when I first saw the picture of the sunlit bark, I thought the tree was on fire! It reminds me of a cross between a yew and a Cryptomeria.

  2. I've never seen this tree before. It is most spectacular! Huge!

  3. Tall, beautiful and drought-tolerant. This tree is a winner in my book. I have noticed that many cemeteries have many beautiful, large specimens of trees. Thank you for sharing this one with us.

  4. I don't think I've seen these before. I love the long needles on them. Thanks for teaching me about another new tree!

  5. You and your trees. This is another great memory trigger for me. My great grandfather, who was never known to waste a penny, had one of these in his yard. It was multi-trunked and when Christmas came, he would top one of the trunks and bring it in the house to decorate. Next year he would top another while the previous year's would grow enough to be used next year. Yuletide crop rotation.

  6. How impressive and beautiful... and then those lovely delicate buds and rosette cones. Thank you for the introduction. Beautiful photography!

  7. Hi Sweetbay, it was interesting that two different sites mentioned the flammability issue. After seeing the large volumn of old stems under the tree I guess it is an issue. As for a cross between a Yew and Crytomeria...yews are a lot softer!! It does look a bit like a yew.

    Hi Tina, this tree is not widely planted in recent years. The ones that were mentioned were very mature trees. It can be propagated fairly easily from cuttings.

    Hi Noelle, it is a winner...a big one! Good observation of the large trees in cemeteries.

    Hi Catherine, glad to introduce you to a new tree.

    Hi Les, wow I am batting 1000! Great story about your grandfather and the Christmas tree. Was this tree on the eastern shore?
    So do you have a fond tree memory of the American Holly? Should we coordinate something?

    Hi Carol, it is an amazing tree. The cones are so small and delicate on such a large tree. Glad to make the introduction.
    thanks, new camera... :-D

  8. When I was big into crafting, I would often use that type small pine cone. The trees are so mightly and tall. They would catch my eye if I were driving past there as well. Do you think the funeral home knows they are used to make coffins? Kind of ironic dont ya think...

  9. Hi Skeeter, you are right, very ironic. Maybe I will call them and tell them about it.
    It is a cute little cone isn't it?

  10. Janet, I am thinking by way of the size of that tree .. hum ? .. it might not fit in my garden ? LOL This is ginormous !!!
    I have seen some tall trees in my time but this is HUGE .. and what small cones it has .. I wonder what it smells like ? anything like pine at all ?

  11. Hi Janet, this is so wonderful, the tree posts. I know I have said it before, but really, you are doing such a public service! Thanks for showing such good closeups of the cones, needles, etc. Interesting tree, and so large. I wonder who originally planted them, and why. Did they know what is was, and how large it would get? Did they want to use them for coffins, do you suppose?

  12. Wow, that tree grows to spectacular proportions Janet! I think the flammability issue would caution me about planting it too. So many different trees ~ I wonder if I'll retain all this knowledge you are so generously imparting? I am excited about the holly next week ~ that one I know and LOVE!!

  13. This is one huge tree! The little flower buds are really appealing. Another informative post, Janet, and an interesting anecdote from Les--now that's an economical way to get a Christmas tree!

  14. Hi Joy, it certainly is a big tree! Unless you have lots of acreage I doubt it would fit in your garden. I don't remember it having a scent.

    Hi Frances, you are most kind. I do these tree posts to learn for myself as much as sharing the new knowledge with everyone. I don't know who planted these two... I may give the funeral home a call. I think it has new owners so history may be gone.

    Hi Kathleen, I appreciate that you enjoy these posts. Very glad to be finally posting a tree that you know!

    Hi Rose, yes Les' story is pretty incredible. I like the little flower buds, so fresh and tiny.

  15. Another great "tree" post. There is a state champion china fir in Virginia Beach near the Municipal Center. It is right off the West Neck Road extension just south of Nimmo Parkway. They are remarkable tress. Thanks for all of the info.

  16. It is good that your husband was kind enough to stop. My husband finds all kinds of excuses to keep driving.
    Cool tree! THanks for all the great info.

  17. Never heard of this!! What a stately tree! Would be a little too formal for my yard, though!

    Thanks as always for the info :)

  18. Interesting...I've never heard of that tree before. At first I thought it was one of those fake trees that go up around cell phone towers. It's very spiky-looking.

  19. Thanks David, I need to remember to check champion trees when I do these posts. Appreciate the info!

    Hi Rosey, he is pretty nice about indulging me and my blogging. He is a sweetie.

    Hi Ginger, it is a stately tree, but too huge for most front yards!

    Good morning Phillip, this one is on RT 17. It is spiky-looking. (Cell phone tower tree? As a tree posting? You are funny)


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