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China fir close up 2

Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca' (China fir cultivar)

December 28, 2017

The genus name of China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) honors Dr. James Cunninghame (c.1665 to 1709), who served in the British East India Company and who was the first European to collect botanical specimens in China. The specific epithet lanceolata indicates the spear-like sharpness of the foliage.

This is a handsome tree from Southeast Asia. We have three specimens in the Conifer Slope, to the north of Wave Hill House. Two of these are the cultivar ‘Glauca’, a silvery-gray selection, and the other is the lustrous green form that is found in the wild.

China fir setting 2

Despite the common name of China fir, it is not actually a fir. Its closest relatives are in the cypress family (Cupressaceae), which includes the junipers and the giant sequoia. Although not likely to exceed the height and majesty of the latter, it can grow to an impressive 70 feet or more.

The flattened, needle-like leaves are attached spirally to the central stem but arrange themselves so that they appear to be naturally parted to either side.

China fir close up 4

By Charles Day, Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.