Chinese coffin tree (Taiwania cryptomerioides)

NE corner of the Environmental Studies Building Map

Look, but don't touch! This tree, which is extremely rare in North America, mounts an admirably effective defense in the form of a dense covering of stout, sharp needles. Even its twigs are armored. Woe betide the cat foolish enough to take refuge in this tree!

As its Latin name implies, this plant is native to the island of Taiwan, where it flourishes in the mountains at moderate elevations and forms dense stands of exceedingly tall, straight-trunked trees. In its native habitat Taiwania can attain enormous dimensions; over 250 ft. tall and 10 ft. in diameter. In cultivation only since 1918, it has yet to demonstrate its limits of growth outside Taiwan.

These trees were planted in the late 1970s by Dr. Hubertus Kohn of the WWU Biology Department, as part of his research. Dr. Kohn is long since retired, but the trees continue to proliferate, in part because the WWU gardening staff has yet to devise a safe way to prune them! It has been suggested that one or more of these rare and interesting trees be transplanted to a more prominent location on campus. A suit of armor will be required.

Wood from Taiwania cryptomerioides is light but strong, and consequently is highly prized in China for making furniture, boats and, of course, coffins. If not cut for timber, the Chinese coffin tree can attain ages in excess of 2000 yrs.