Cathaya argyrophylla Chun & Kuang

Native to China with a small population which is estimated to be no more than 1000 mature individuals.


Native to south-east China: Chongqing (Nanchuan Xian, Wulong Xian), NE Guangxi (Jingxiu Yaozu Zizhixian, Longsheng Gezu Zizhixian), Guizhou (Daozhen Xian, Jiangkou Xian, Tongzi), S Hunan (Chengdu, Guidong Xian, Luohandong, Xinning Xian, Zixing Shi). A monospecific genus occurring in a few disjunct localities in the eastern Dalou Mts. and in the Yuecheng range.

The total number of individual plants is estimated to be 4,484. The population age structure shows a normal distribution. The effective population is estimated to be about 500 mature individuals. Around 30 small to medium-sized stands occur in areas which are fairly inaccessible.

Habitat and Ecology

On medium high mountains, at elevations between (900-)1200 to 1900 metres above sea-level. The soils are the widely distributed red and yellow earths of humid, warm temperate to subtropical China. Wang (1961) has mentioned C. argyrophylla as a rare conifer occurring in the evergreen sclerophyllous broad-leaved forest type. This forest type is dominated by numerous species of Fagaceae with mostly small, ovate lanceolate, coriaceous leaves. However, from the altitudinal range of the species it is likely that it occurs in an ecotonal type between the sclerophyllous and deciduous broad-leaved forest types. Other conifers with which it occurs are almost certainly Pinus fenzeliana (syn. P. kwangtungensis), and possibly also Tsuga chinensis and Nothotsuga longibracteata

Human Uses

This species is in cultivation through several forestry institutes and botanic gardens in China; outside China it is still very rare in collections and no mature plants exist in these. It has only recently been freed of its official embargo.

Conservation Status

Global status

Vulnerable D1

Global rationale

This species has a small global population, and the number of mature individuals is estimated to number not much more than 500 mature individuals; certainly less than 1000 mature individuals. It is not clear if this species has been harvested much in the past, it appears to be a naturally scarce species. Much of the population is in protected areas and it enjoys the highest level of protection in China plus there is a general logging ban which has recently been imposed by the Chinese Government. Hence, although there is no evidence for any decline this species is listed as Vulnerable based simply on the small population size

Global threats

After its discovery in the 1950s, for many years this monotypic genus was considered to be an extremely rare conifer. Even herbarium specimens were very few and virtually nothing of it had reached botanic gardens and institutional herbaria outside China until very recently. It is a relatively rare conifer, but its extent of occurrence (EOO) is now known to encompass four provinces in south-central China and herbarium collections (in China) are known from at least 10 localities. It is usually growing on inaccessible slopes and ridges and is not considered to be a valuable timber resource due to small or medium size and 'poor shape' in logging terms. The populations are well protected but there is concern that they will be replaced by faster growing broadleaved species if regeneration continues to be poor. The species is now in cultivation in China and is slowly becoming available through some botanic gardens in the West, e.g. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Conservation Actions

Several localities are within reserves and it enjoys legal protection (1st degree protection on the national Chinese list).

References and further reading

  1. Callaghan, C. (2007). A synopsis of the enigmatic Cathay Silver Fir. International Dendrology Society Yearbook 2006, pp. 151–164.
  2. Callaghan, C. (2007). Bibliography of Cathaya—living & Fossil. International Dendrology Society Yearbook 2006, pp. 164–167.
  3. Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  4. Fu, L.G. and Chen, S.Z. (1981). Discovery and designation of Cathaya argyrophylla. Plant Journal (Zhiwu Zazhi) 4: 1-42.
  5. Ge, Song; Hong, De-Yuan; Wang, Hai-Qun; Liu, Zheng-Yu; and Zhang, Can-Ming. (1998). Population genetic structure and conservation of an endangered conifer, Cathaya argyrophylla (Pinaceae). International Journal of Plant Sciences 159(2): 351-357.
  6. Hu, Y.S. and Wang, F.H. (1984). Anatomical studies of Cathaya (Pinaceae). American Journal of Botany 71(5): 727-735.
  7. Li-kuo, F. and Jian-ming, J. (1992). China Plant Red Data Book – Rare and Endangered Plants 1. Science Press, Beijing.
  8. Pant, D.D., and N. Basu. (1977). A comparative study of the leaves of Cathaya argyrophylla Chun & Kuang and three species of Keteleeria Carriere. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 1975(3): 271-282.
  9. Wang, Hong-Wei and Ge, Song. (2006). Phylogeography of the endangered Cathaya argyrophylla (Pinaceae) inferred from sequence variation of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Molecular Ecology 15(13): 4109-4122.
  10. Yang, Y. & Liao, W. (2013). Cathaya argyrophylla. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>. Downloaded on 08 July 2013.

Entry information:

Entry authors:

Y.Yang and W.-b.Liao. ·

Entry last edited:

2 Jul 2019

Recommended Citation:

Y.Yang and W.-b.Liao, 2019, Cathaya argyrophylla, from the website: ‘Threatened Conifers of The World’ ( Downloaded on 22 June 2024.

Categorised in:

Vulnerable, China and Pinaceae.