China fir tree tour

I’ve recently “discovered” 4 China fir trees, Cunninghamia lanceolata,  in my travels around town — in quotation marks because my more recent finding is a list of these very trees (well, three out of the four) in the pages of Phyllis Reynolds’ Trees of Greater Portland. It’s not the first time I’ve seen my discoveries already documented in this book.

You might easily walk under one of these unusual conifers without knowing.  Though called a ‘fir,’ it is in its own subfamily within the Cypress family. True firs have short blunt-tipped needles and upright-borne cones in the upper portion of the tree.  You don’t have to look up to identify this tree.  This was at eye level as I approached the tree on the corner of  NE 28th and Thompson.


Reynold’s book discusses this characteristic of dead brown needles persisting on the tree.  Easy to help identify the tree once they drop for close examination. Needles are sharp on the ends, spirally arranged but appear 2-ranked, and the cones are small and nearly round.



This next tree is on SE 35th Avenue between Holgate and Cora Drive.  I found it a few blocks away from my daughter’s violin teacher’s house one day. (Please excuse the weedy Ailanthus in the parking strip in front.)


Again, this was a helpful clue for a quick drive by ID.


Both this tree and the one above are multi-trunked.


The cones are a really attractive feature.



Below, a pollen-bearing cone


This next one is Heritage Tree #57, on 1104 SE Mall Street, this one a street tree with a single trunk.  It’s easily seen above the rooftops by this tree-distracted driver traveling SE McLoughlin Blvd (again, en route to violin lessons).


And finally back in NE Portland again, here’s a cute young specimen in the west side landscape of the McMenamins Kennedy School, NE 33rd and Jarrett. It looks to be C. lanceolata ‘Glauca’ by its silvery blue foliage.


Here are some details on China fir, Cunninghamia lanceolata, this member of the cypress family, Cupressaceae, as found in the OSU landscape plants database.

  • Evergreen conifer, upright conical or pyramidal, spreading branches with pendulous tips and terminal cones.
  • Pliable but sharp-tipped needles, emerald green, blue in cultivar ‘Glauca’
  • USDA zones 6-9
  • native to central and southern China
  • 50-80′ tall, but up to 150′ in the wild
  • sun, or best with some shade and wind protection
  • brown dead needles persist for several years
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One Response to China fir tree tour

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    Is that one picture, many trunks from the same tree or multiple trees? Does this tree have a tendency to produce extra trunks? You would have to think carefully before planting one on your property. The bark and cones remind me a bit of the bald cypress.

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