Where to get sandalwood?

What Is Sandalwood – How To Grow Sandalwood In The Garden

Most people who are into aromatherapy and essential oils are aware of the unique, relaxing fragrance of sandalwood. Because of this highly desired fragrance, native varieties of sandalwood in India and Hawaii were nearly harvested to extinction in the 1800s. So great was the demand for sandalwood by greedy kings of Hawaii that much of the agricultural workers had to grow and harvest only sandalwood. This resulted in many years of terrible famine for the people of Hawaii. Many areas of India suffered similarly to provide merchants with sandalwood. Besides just a fragrant essential oil, what is sandalwood? Continue reading for sandalwood tree information.

What is Sandalwood?

Sandalwood (Santalum sp.) is a large shrub or tree hardy in zones 10-11. While there are over 100 species of sandalwood plants, most varieties are native to India, Hawaii or Australia. Depending on variety and location, sandalwood may grow as 10-foot-tall (3 m.) shrubs or trees up to 30 feet tall (9 m.).

They are often found in areas with poor, dry clay or sandy soils. Sandalwood trees are tolerant of high wind, drought, salt spray and intense heat. They prefer full sun but will grow in part shade. They are used in the landscape as hedges, specimen plants, shade trees and xeriscaping plants.

The flowers and wood of sandalwood are harvested for the plant’s fragrant essential oil. Plants are harvested between 10-30 years of age because the natural essential oils increase in potency with age. Besides just smelling nice, sandalwood essential oil is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti-spasmodic. It is a natural astringent, stress reducer, memory booster, deodorant, and acne and wound treatment.

In India, Hawaii and Australia, sandalwood bark and leaves were used as a laundry soap, shampoo for dandruff and lice, and to treat wounds and body aches.

How to Grow Sandalwood Tree

Sandalwood trees are actually semi-parasitic. They send out specialized roots that attach to the roots of host plants, from which they suck xylem from the host plant. In India, sandalwood’s tendency to use Acacia and Casuarina trees as host plants caused the government to enforce growing restrictions on sandalwood.

Care for sandalwood plants is very simple because they are so tolerant of tough growing situations, but they must be provided with host plants to grow properly. For the landscape, sandalwood host plants can be plants in the legume family, shrubs, grasses or herbs. It’s not wise to plant sandalwood too close to other specimen trees that they may use as host plants.

Male and female plants must both be present for most varieties of sandalwood trees to produce fruit and seed. To grow sandalwood from seeds, the seeds require scarification. Because it is mostly the heartwood, leaves or flowers of sandalwood that are used herbally, one plant is usually sufficient in the landscape, but if you wish to propagate more plants from seed, you will need to make sure you have male and female plants.


Santalum album. Linn commonly known as East Indian sandalwood or chandan belongs to the family Santalaceae. It is highly valuable and becoming endangered species. It is distributed all over the country and more than 90% lies in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu covering 8300 sq kms. Sandalwood plays an important role in the religious life of Indians. The essential oil obtained from this wood has occupied significant place in perfumery industries/market. Although it is available in some other countries still the Indian Sandalwood has retained its dominance over other sources because of its quality.


Santalum album occurs from coastal dry forests up to 700 m elevation. It normally grows in sandy or stony red soils, but a wide range of soil types are inhabited. This habitat has a temperature range from 0° C to 38° C and annual rainfall between 500 and 3000 mm.

Seed technology

Santalum album is an evergreen tree. It can grow to a height of 20 m and attain a girth of over 1.5 m. It flowers and fruits twice a year during March-April and September-October. Trees start flowering from 3 years of age. Seed production generally is good in one of the seasons. Certain trees flower only once a year and some do not flower regularly. About 6000 seeds make 1 kg. Seeds can be collected directly from the tree.

Seed Collection: Santalum album fruits are collected fresh from more than 20 years old trees and are soaked in water and rubbed to remove the soft pulp; then it will be dried.

Seed Storage: Seeds are naked, lack testa and are dried and stored in polybags or gunny bags.

Pretreatment: Acid scarification with concentrated H2SO4 for 30 minutes with string and washing in running water, or soak the seeds in 0.05% gibberellic acid overnight.

Nursery technology

Two types of seed beds are used to raise sandal seedlings: sunken and raised beds. Both of them perform equally well under different climatic conditions.

Seed beds are formed with only sand and red earth in the ratio 3:1 and are thoroughly mixed with nematicides (Ekalux or Thimet at 500 g per bed of 10 m x 1 m). Around 2.5 kg seed is spread uniformly over the bed, covered with straw which should be removed when the leaves start appearing on the seedlings. Sandal suffers from a very virulent disease caused by combined fungal and nematode infection. The initial symptom is that of wilting of leaves followed by suddan chlorosis and root decay. On account of this the mortality rate is very high, which can be controlled by the application of nematicide (Ekalux) and fungicide (Dithane). Seeds beds are to be sprayed with fungicide Dithane Z-78 (0.25%) once in 15 days to avoid fungal attack and 0.02% Ekalux solution once in a month to avoid nematode attack.

When seedlings have reached 4 to 6 leaf stage they are transplanted to polybags along with a seed of Cajanus cajan, Alternanthera sessilis (L.) R. Br. ex. Dc, Cassia fistula L., Mimosa pudica L., etc., the primary host for better growth of sandal. Seedlings are carefully removed from beds with all roots intact; roots should not be allowed to dry. Shade can be provided for a week immediately after transplantation. Watering is to be done once a day, but excess moisture is to be avoided. Host plants are to be pruned frequently, so that they do not over grow sandal and hamper its growth. Polybags should contain soil mixture of ration 2:1:1 (Sand: Red earth: Farmyard manure). It has been found that polybags of 30 x 14 cm size are the best. To avoid nematode attack Ekalux of 2 gm/polybag or 200 gm for 1m3 of polybag mixture should be thoroughly mixed before filling the bags. Shifting may be done once in two months to avoid root penetrating soil and grading is to be done once in three months. Weeding is to be done at regular intervals.

Plantable seedlings of about 30 cm height can be raised in 6-8 month’s time. A well branched seedling with a brown stem is ideal for planting in the field.


Regeneration has been obtained successfully by following methods.

  • Dibbling of seeds into bushes
  • Dibbling of seeds in pits or mounds
  • Planting container raised seedlings in the nurseries

Dibbling of Seeds into Bushes

This methods is adopted in open scrub jungles with lot of bushes. Seeds are sown during monsoon. An instrument can be made using a bamboo pole of 4 to 6 cm internal diameter and a length of 1.5 m for the purpose of sowing seeds. The septa at the nodes are removed and one end of the pole is sharpened or a hollow metal piece is attached. The pole is introduced at the base of the bush and through the hole 4 to 5 seeds are transferred to the base of the bush. Fairly good success has been achieved by this method.

Dibbling of Seeds in Pits or Mounds

The usual trench mound technique adopted in forest for other species is also adopted for sandal. But here a perennial host plant is also grown along with sandal either on the mound or in the pit.

Planting Container Raised Seedlings in the Nurseries

Pits of 50 cm3 are dug out at an espacement of 4 m x 4 m. Healthy sandal seedlings; preferably above 30 cm in height are planted in the pits. Miscellaneous secondary forest species as host plants are planted in the same pit or they may be planted in separate pits in a quincunx pattern. This method has proved successful in many forest areas. At the time of planting in the field a perennial host, if given, increases the growth of sandal, otherwise it shows stunted growth with pale yellow leaves and ultimately dies in about one year. Sandal has over 150 host plants, some of the good hosts being Casuarina equisetifolia, Acacia nilotica, Pongamia pinnata, Melia dubia, Wrightia tinctoria and Cassia siamea.

Heartwood Formation and Oil Content

Heartwood formation in sandal trees generally starts around 10-13 years of age, but what triggers this process has not been very well understood. Certain factors, generally relating to stress, such as gravelly dry soil, insolation, and range of elevation (500-700 m), seem to provide the right environment for the formation of heartwood, irrespective of the size of the stem after 10 years of age. The occurrence of heartwood varies. The value of heartwood is due to its oil content, and the superiority of the oil is due to the percentage of santalol.

  • In a tree the oil content is highest in the root, next highest in the stem at ground level, and gradually tapers off towards the tip of the stem.
  • Similarly, there is a gradient in oil content from the core to the periphery of the heartwood in a stem.

Depending upon their age, trees can be called young or mature, although this is an empirical classification and holds good only for a particular population. The oil content and its composition may differ at the same age:

  • Young trees (height less than 10 m, girth less than 50 cm, and heartwood diameter 0.5-2 cm) have heartwood with 0.2-2 percent oil content, which has 85 percent santalol, 5 percent acetate, and 5 percent santalenes.
  • Mature trees (height 15-20 m, girth 0.5-1 m, and heartwood diameter 10-20 cm) have heartwood with oil content of 2- 6.2 percent, which has over 90 percent santalol, 3-5 percent acetate, and 3 percent santalenes.

Pest and Disease

Spike disease is one of the important diseases of sandal. This disease is caused by mycoplasma-like organisms (MLO). It can occur at any stage of development of the tree. As the disease progresses, the new leaves become smaller, narrower or more pointed and fewer in number with each successive year until the new shoots give an appearance of fine spike. At the advance stage of disease the inter nodal distance on twigs becomes small, haustorial connection between the host and sandal breaks and the plant dies in about 2 to 3 years.

Spread of disease is sporadic and the disease is transmitted in nature by insect vectors. It has been found that other insect vectors in addition to Nephotettix virescens may also be responsible for transmission of disease. So far no permanent remedial measures have been prescribed for control of spike disease.

Stem borers Zeuzera coffease Nietn (red borer) Indarbela quardinotata Walker (bark-feeding caterpillar) and Aristobia octofasiculata Aurivillius (heartwood borer) are some of the pests causing considerable damage to living trees.

Source : Sandalwood Information System. Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bengaluru

In many countries that are major producers of sandalwood essential oil, sandalwood trees are cultivated on large plantations with other commercially viable plants. Because of the sandalwood tree’s hemi-parasitic nature, they must be cultivated near a host plant, a cultivation strategy known as inter planting. The best hosts for sandalwood are nitrogen-fixing trees because the growth of sandalwood depends on the availability of amino acids, and the host plant should not compete with the sandalwood for nutrients (SPC, source, 2005).

The species of host plants cultivated along with sandalwood vary among regions. In Tonga, sandalwood is often grown with other commercially-productive plants such as pine, casuarina, citrus, and paper mulberry. In Hawaii, ʻAlaʻala wai nui (Peperomia blanda), a native groundcover, is suggested as an excellent plant to grow near sandalwood (Hawaii Gardening, source, 2008).

Acacias are also known to be good sandalwood hosts. In India, sandalwood can often be intercropped with fruit-bearing trees such as tamarind (Tamarindus indica), pomegranate (Punica granatum), and the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), all of which produce fruit within 2-3 years and therefore can reduce the burden of maintaining the sandalwood trees, which take much longer to produce (source, 2010).

Sandalwood trees grow well in full sun, provided that they can attach their roots to suitable host species to obtain nutrients. The trees can usually tolerate up to 60-70% shade, but their growth will be much slower in these higher levels of shadeThe optimum amount of shade is about 25-35%. All species of sandalwood require well-drained soils (PIA, source).

Some disadvantages to growing sandalwood include the lack of seed and planting materials, the lack of species varieties, or cultivars, known to have a high oil yield, theft and harm caused by other invasive plant species. Additionally, if the trees are planted in a climate with an extremely high rainfall and soil that cannot drain properly, they are often susceptible to root and butt rot fungi, leading to the trees’ rapid death (PIA, source).

Sandalwood trees are currently cultivated for their oil and other products in multiple countries across the world. Large commercial plantations of sandalwood are already well established or are currently being developed in Australia, India, and southern China. Additionally, in the Pacific Islands, many countries support sandalwood cultivation at a community level while also regulating the harvesting of their remaining trees growing in the wild. Countries in this region currently cultivating smaller-scale sandalwood plantations, as well as privately-owned standings of sandalwood, include Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Papua New Guinea.

Hawaii also cultivates sandalwood on a very small scale, primarily involving private landowners. Outside of the Pacific Islands, sandalwood plantations are currently being established in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, and Cambodia (Wescorp, source) (India Times, source, 2012).

Until recently, India has always been the lead producer of sandalwood oil. Today, due to over-harvesting and the Indian sandalwood’s subsequent status as a vulnerable species, Australia is now the new center of sandalwood essential oil production in the world. According to the Australian government, “Only two native species of Santalum are harvested for the aromatic timber in Australia: S. spicatum from WA and S. lanceolatum from Queensland.

Western Australia currently cultivates around 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of S. spicatum on sandalwood plantations (Australian Sandalwood Network, , source, 2014). One of its largest companies, TFS Corporation, was the first company to grow Indian sandalwood (S. album) in Australia and has approximately 7,600 hectares (19,000 acres) of trees in northern Australia (TFS, source, 2014). According to Western Australian Sandalwood Plantations (WASP), “Australian sandalwood currently supplies well over half of all sandalwood traded around the globe annually.” Also, Australia is expected to provide the majority of Indian (S. album) sandalwood oil to the world market in the coming years (Green Left, source, 2013).

In addition to the larger corporations established in Australia, sandalwood essential oil is cultivated by a wide variety of companies around the world. In India, the government maintained a longstanding monopoly on the cultivation and trade of the country’s sandalwood trees after Tipu Sultan christened the sandalwood a “royal tree” in the 1790’s. In 2001, however, after the country’s supply of S. album dwindled, India’s government amended its restrictions on sandalwood cultivation. Under this new amendment, landowners growing the trees can now claim full ownership over them. Regarding this amendment, forestry consultant Dr. H. S. Anantha Padmanabha explains that, “This has been done to promote farmers and corporate bodies to take initiative to grow sandalwood outside the forest limits.” (source, 2010).

Now, many smaller-scale farmers in India are beginning to show renewed interest in sandalwood cultivation. According to a recent India Times article, “To cash in on this swelling enthusiasm for sandalwood among novice farmers, corporate groups from the city have come up with special profit-sharing ‘packages’ to encourage more and more people to take to agriculture, especially organic farming.” Industry experts state that this growing wave of interest in young farmers and professionals, propelled by the recent amendments to cultivation restrictions, is promising for Indian’s sandalwood industry. (source, 2013).

In Vanuatu, the country’s government has taken considerable steps to protect its natural sandalwood resources and remain a competitive player in the international sandalwood industry. In 2010, Vanuatu was chosen as the host country for a meeting of Sandalwood Resource Development, Research, and Trade in the Pacific and Asian Region organization. According to the organization’s committee, “Vanuatu has been chosen to host this workshop in recognition of the significant sandalwooddevelopment work there, providing excellent opportunities to participants from other countries and territories to observe and to learn.” Vanuatu is thus one of the leading countries in protecting and developing new cultivation methods for its sandalwood natural resources

The basis of the sandalwood industry in Vanuatu is wild-harvested sandalwood, rather than plantations. All of Vanuatu’s forests are owned by private landowners, so any methods of reforestation of sandalwood trees are collaborations between these small farmers, distillers, botanists, and others. The country’s villages also play an important role in sandalwood cultivation, working sandalwood trees into their community’s existing agriculture, including smaller ornamental gardens as well as larger plantings. According to recent efforts to revitalize the sandalwood industry in Vanuatu, the country’s recent progress in sandalwood cultivation is trending upward. However, Vanuatu’s government recognizes that knowledge of sandalwood cultivation, “needs to be more widely available in a format that local people can easily understand,” in order to continue the collaborative efforts between the sandalwood industry and private landowners.

Similarly, in Hawaii the government has recently launched surveys and studies in an attempt to protect their native sandalwood species and encourage private landowners to cultivate sandalwood trees (Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, source, 2013).

Most recently, China has joined the sandalwood essential oil industry with the creation of smaller companies committed to sandalwood cultivation. The first large-scale project began in 2012 in Qingyuan City with 200,000 S. album sandalwood trees planted. The company, Sandalwood Forest (Qingyuan) Co., Ltd., aims to build a “sandalwood industry chain that integrates planting, production, processing, research, development, culture, tourism, branding, and sales” (source, 2012). The progress of S. album sandalwood cultivation in China is expected to challenge the recent S. album cultivation in Australia; China is one of the largest importers of sandalwood in the world, and a few industry experts believe that Chinese customers will prefer sandalwood cultivated locally in China, rather than sandalwood shipped from Australia (Australian Center for Agricultural Research, source, 2012).

Santalum – A Fascinating Genus

John Wrigley

Santalum belongs to the family Santalaceae, which has over 30 genera and 400 species in tropical and temperate parts of the world. In Australia there are 10 genera, 4 of which are endemic. All Australian genera, except one, Dendromyza, are root parasites, ie their roots attach themselves to the roots of other plants and obtain nutrients from them. Dendromyza is a stem parasite, similar to mistletoes, although mistletoes belong to a different family.

Of the Australian genera, the most common locally is Exocarpos. The cherry ballart or brush cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) is widespread in eucalypt forest from south-east Queensland to South Australia and Tasmania. Also seen are the native currant, Liptomeria acida, with white flowers and edible fruit and Choretrum candollei, which makes an attractive shrub in full flower.

Santalum has about 25 species spread from India and Malaysia through Australia and to islands of the Pacific. In Australia, we have five endemic species and one that occurs almost throughout the range of the genus. The Australian species are known as sandalwoods or quandongs.

Santalum obtusifolium – A sandalwood

This species occurs from the Lamington Plateau in SE Queensland through eastern New South Wales to East Gippsland. It is found along creek banks in forests in sand or gravelly clay.

It is a medium sized shrub to 2.5 m and is the only Santalum species with prominently recurved leaf margins. It has small axillary whitish flowers and purple succulent fruits about 1 cm diameter.

Little information is available about the uses of its fruit or timber.

Santalum lanceolatum – Northern sandalwood

This is the most widespread species in the genus. It occurs over a wide area but is more common in northern regions. Found mainly on sandy soils on sandplains or shrublands often with spinifex (Triodia spp.) or occasionally on creak banks and gullies.

Santalum lanceolatum
Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens

It forms a shrub to 7 m with fissured grey bark and pendulous branches with grey, lanceolate leaves to 9 cm. The tiny cream or pale green flowers are borne in terminal or axillary clusters and the fruit is about 1 cm diameter changing from red to purplish black when mature. It has a prominent circular scar at its apex.

The fruit is edible and the explorer, Leichhardt, remarked it had ‘a very agreeable taste’. It was eaten by Aborigines, who also mashed the roots and soaked them in water to make a liniment. The seeds were also ground to a paste and used in the same way.

The timber is aromatic and limited exports have been made to Asian counties for its value as an oil source and for its fragrant timber.

Santalum murrayanum – Bitter quandong

The bitter quandong is found on gravelly and sandy loam and sometimes on dunes, in open woodland and tall shrubland. It occurs in the south of Western Australia, South Australia and south-west Victoria.

Santalum murrayanum
Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens

It forms a shrub or small tree to 4 m high with smooth bark and a more or less rounded habit. The narrow lanceolate leaves have a hooked tip and are pale yellowish green to 3.5 cm long. The small yellow flowers are borne in large clusters and are followed by large globular fruit about 2 cm diameter. When ripe they are brownish red.

The fruit has a very bitter taste but the aborigines are said to have eaten the seeds and bark of the roots after roasting. The large seed has the typical rough and pitted shall, which may have been used to make Chinese checkers.

Santalum spicatum – Sandalwood

This species grows on loam and among rocks in woodland and tall shrubland. It occurs mostly in the southern half of Western Australia and in South Australia.

It is a medium to large shrub to 4 m with a spreading habit and rough, grey bark. The grey green lanceolate leaves are flat with a blunt tip and up to 7 cm long. The small red-green four-petalled flowers are scented and borne in clusters. The globular fruit is green to brown and about 2 cm diameter.

The timber of this species yields the valuable sandalwood oil, which is used in religious rites by Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis and Moslems in South-east Asia. It is presently harvested in the Goldfields area of Western Australia and sells for about $10,000 per tonne.

It is interesting to look at some historical figures on exports of sandalwood. In 1849,1204 tons of sandalwood, valued at £ 10,711, were shipped from WA and by 1899,4,470 tons worth £ 33,525 were sent to Singapore and China. At this time it was stated that all sandalwood trees of any size were cut down within a radius of 150 miles from Perth. In 1890, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a Distillery Company had been established near Albany and the first instalment of twenty cases of sandalwood oil was shipped to England. Exports of timber continued to grow until in 1920, more than 14,000 tons of wood left from WA.

Despite these huge export quantities, this species is said to produce an inferior oil to the Indian sandalwood (S.album) and has a rotation sequence of about 100 years compared to a rotation period of 20-30 years for S.album. Nevertheless plantations are being established in WA to capitalise on this market.

Santalum acuminatum – Native peach or Sweet Quandong

This species is widespread in drier areas of southern Australia and may be found on coastal dunes, gravelly plains, granitic outcrops and creek banks. It is not fussy about soil type or its host plant, which may be a perennial grass or a legume or herb.

Santalum acuminatum:
The tree in its natural habitat (left)
The fruit (right)
Photos: Horst Weber
Click for larger image

It forms a shrub or small tree to about 6 m high and sometimes spreads by underground stolons. The yellowish green leaves are up to 9 cm long and tiny yellowish flowers are borne in large terminal clusters. The fruits are bright shiny red and vary in diameter from 15-50 mm diameter. The flesh is easily removed from the seed when ripe. The kernel is pitted similarly to S.murrayanum.

Much research has been carried out on the potential value of native peach as an edible crop for growing in semi-arid and arid areas. This began in 1973 when an experimental plantation was established near Quorn, SA by the CSIRO, Division of Horticultural Research.

Germination was difficult with fungal problems affecting the viability of old seed. Fresh fruit had to be collected and the flesh removed. The kernel was then placed in a vice and carefully cracked to remove the seed, which was placed in moist sterilised vermiculite and held at temperatures between 15-20o. Germination may take from one to 12 months and a 70% germination rate could be expected. Later work indicated that by planting whole kernels directly into well-drained Dotting mix and keeping the pots at about 20oC, similar germination percentage was achieved although the germination time may be longer.

When the seedlings were about 5-10 cm high, a host plant was introduced into the pot. Lucerne was considered to be a suitable host species. As the tap root of S.acuminatum grows much quicker than the shoot, it is important to place the plant in the ground as early as possible with spring considered the optimum time.

Jam and chutney made from sweet quandong

As seedling plants exhibit genetic variation the next move was to attempt to graft good fruiting clones. This is now being done commercially in the Mildura area and successful plantations have been established.

The fruit may be eaten raw, but the main commercial use is for jams, jellies, chutneys and in pies. It is available in specialty shops.

An Australian Quandong Industry Association Inc. has been formed and a host of useful information is available from them.

Santalum album – Indian sandalwood

Despite the common name S.album is an Australian native plant occurring along the coast and adjacent islands between Melville and Elcho Islands (north coast of the Northern Territory). It grows in sand in shrubland behind mangroves and by billabongs.

This species looks rather different to the other native Santalum spp. in that it often forms a dense shrub to 4 m high with glossy ovate leaves to 7 cm long with obvious veining on the underside. The small red or greenish flowers are borne in axillary or terminal clusters and the black fruit is only about 7 mm diameter. It is edible.

The great value of this species is its timber and the oil that it contains. Like S.spicatum it is used in religious ceremonies and carvings in South-east Asia, India and China.

Experimental work is in progress on the Ord River Scheme, near Kununurra, WA to cultivate this species to exploit the rich markets of the Asian area, where the species is becoming rare. Like the other species of Santalum, Indian sandalwood is a root parasite and will not grow well unless it has access to a suitable host, so much of the research has been directed to this end.

On germination of the seed, a pot host is required and currently an Alternanthera sp. is being used. This plant combination is then planted out and a secondary host, which may be an Acacia sp. or Sesbania formosa is planted 1 metre or so from the target species. Finally the ultimate host plant is established in the same area. Considerable research is under way to determine the optimum, tertiary host, with the native dry rainforest tree, Cathormium umbellatum, a legume, currently being preferred. Further research, however, is aimed at making the final host a species with commercial value. Valuable timber trees such as several Dalbergia spp., Kaya senegalensis and even the Australian red cedar Toona ciliata, are being examined.

Indian sandalwood takes about 20 years to be suitable for harvest, with the present expected value of the wood being in the order to A$20,000 per tonne.

Indian sandalwood may be used in three ways.

  1. The oil may be extracted from the butt of the tree and used in cosmetics.
  2. The timber may be used for carvings
  3. The timber may be burned as incense sticks.

Finally the genus Santalum holds a special fascination to me not only because of its semi-parasitic nature but because several potentially valuable products may provide important export markets of the future.

From the April 2003 issue of Native Plants for New South Wales, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW).

John Wrigley is a well known author and horticulturist and life member of the Australian Plants Society (NSW). He is a former curator of the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the author of many books and articles. His best known publication is Australian Native Plants (jointly with Murray Fagg) which was first published in 1979. The much updated and revised 5th edition is expected to be published later in 2003.

Australian Plants online – September 2003
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants

Growing Indian Sandalwood in Australia

The July 2015 edition of P&F, “Reaching toward Sustainability,” in part focuses on cross-industry efforts to preserve the natural heritage of the F&F industry. Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) represents one of perfumery’s most revered and troubled ingredients.

Indian Sandalwood in Fragrances

The heartwood, oil and spent charge of Indian sandalwood yield products of commercial importance around the world. The oil, the core item of interest for fragrance formulators, is of course used in fragrances, particularly in Europe and the United States.

The material has strong fixative properties and, according to figures presented in Michael Edwards’ “Fragrances of the World,” is so popular that about 47% of all perfumes created since 1790 contain sandalwood notes.

In aromatherapy products for the United States and Europe, sandalwood is a top-10 most popular natural oil. In the Middle East, on the other hand, Indian sandalwood is used in alcohol-free attars that fix the fragrance of flowers and spices.

Finally, the spent charge of sandalwood is applied to incense products, primarily in China, Taiwan and India. Some estimates put India’s daily sandalwood incense stick burn at 500 million each day. The sweet woody scent is said to promote meditation and divine connection. Use of these waste-stream products boosts the sustainability profile of Indian sandalwood.

Indian Sandalwood in Medicine

Indian sandalwood oil is also applied to pharmaceuticals in the United States and Europe for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-proliferative properties. According to TFS Corporation Ltd., it is now the subject of clinical trials to develop prescription drugs to treat the skin.

This activity has led to its application as a cosmetic ingredient in the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, in India and China, sandalwood has been applied in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and Ayurveda to treat ailments such as bronchitis, skin conditions and stress.

Other Applications

The heartwood of Indian sandalwood is used for carvings and furniture in China, Taiwan, India and Southeast Asia; is fashioned into sticks and burned for its odor in the Middle East and North Africa; and is applied in wood and powder form to religious rituals throughout India and Asia.

It is clear that Indian sandalwood is a versatile botanical.

Here, in an online exclusive, Mario Di Lallo, head of global products of TFS Corporation Ltd., discusses the challenges and opportunities in producing sustainable Indian sandalwood in Australia.

Growing Indian Sandalwood in Australia

Here, in an online exclusive, Mario Di Lallo, head of global products of TFS Corporation Ltd., discusses the challenges and opportunities in producing sustainable Indian sandalwood in Australia.


Establishing a Viable Plantation

Indian sandalwood is a fragrant oil bearing tree. To achieve a commercially viable plantation you need to achieve good survival rates and yields of heartwood and oil. You also need to be able to create a consistent product with the right constituents to meet the standards of the global pharmaceutical, fragrance, cosmetics and traditional markets.

We’ve found that by replicating the natural environment of India’s forests our plantation-grown Indian sandalwood trees produce heartwood and oil naturally. Our researchers have found that a minimum trunk diameter is required for heartwood initiation to occur, so we focus on selective breeding and natural forestry management to produce larger trees and ultimately greater yields of heartwood and oil. We also use an abundance of optimal host trees that provide water and metabolites essential to the growth of the parasitic Indian sandalwood tree. All of this helps give us forecast oil yields of around 3.7%.

Since 1999, TFS has invested in research into soil types (a key determinant of sandalwood quality), host tree management, tree breeding, land preparation and irrigation. We’ve also enhanced our tree breeding program which involved identifying plus trees for a seed orchard and establishing a progeny trial to validate the superior growth of the selected trees. Recent testing found that these trees achieved up to 18% greater growth and yields compared to other trees at the same age. This has helped us to achieve more than 90% survival rates after planting and delivered greater growth rates and yields because of this unique intellectual property.

Commercial Production of Sandalwood Oil

The other area of challenge is the commercial production of sandalwood oil, a process that is markedly different to lab and small scale distillations. In 2008 we acquired Mount Romance, the world’s largest distiller of sandalwood. This helped us to overcome many challenges before we began commercial-scale distillations of Indian sandalwood oil. The intellectual property from Mount Romance gave TFS a good platform to begin further research, giving us an advanced understanding of the composition, fractions and behaviors of sandalwood species during distillation.

Since TFS acquired Mount Romance, we’ve invested millions to improve equipment and processes. We’ve been conducting systematic trials at the facility, and over the past three years we’ve formalized and extended our research program. This has helped us to improve both our understanding of and processes for the distillation of Indian sandalwood.

Key to this has been a partnership with biomedical researchers in the United States. The combined experience and expertise of our Australian and US teams (in 2015 TFS acquired its pharmaceutical partners Viroxis and Santalis Pharmaceuticals Inc.) has allowed TFS to create a pharmaceutical-grade of Indian sandalwood oil. Today we work according to ICH Q7, a quality assurance system used to regulate pharmaceutical production to control and monitor quality from tree growth through to harvesting, distillation and analysis. In the United States, this pharmaceutical-grade oil is part of trials to create prescription drugs to treat dermatological conditions.

How Close to Indian-grown Products?

From a composition perspective, TFS plantation-grown Indian sandalwood trees have the same high sesquiterpenols (including santalols) and olfactory profile as wild sandalwood.

Boosting Sustainability

Indian sandalwood is recognized as a vulnerable species on the World Conservation Union Threatened Species Redlist. Plantations help to relieve the pressure on wild resources.

TFS has an environmental program that is managed according to ISO 14001 (Environment). This means we aim for continual improvement and monitor our impact on an ongoing basis. Where possible, we find efficient solutions that benefit the company and the environment. One example is drip irrigation which helps to increase survival rates and reduce water usage by more than 70% against flood irrigation. TFS also uses renewable energy and an award-winning water recycling system at its Mount Romance processing facility.

We’re also mindful of the impact of the dwindling harvests from India. TFS works with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi and his organization, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which means “Save the Children” in Hindi. Through this group we sponsor a project that promotes education, children’s and human rights and democracy in a small Indian village near where sandalwood once grew.


Sandalwood, any semiparasitic plant of the genus Santalum (family Santalaceae), especially the fragrant wood of the true, or white, sandalwood, Santalum album. The approximately 10 species of Santalum are distributed throughout southeastern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific.

true sandalwoodTrue sandalwood (Santalum album).Kowloonese

Many other woods are used as substitutes for true sandalwood. Red sandalwood is obtained from the reddish-coloured wood of Pterocarpus santalinus, a Southeast Asian tree of the pea family (Fabaceae). This species may have been the source of the sandalwood used in King Solomon’s temple.

A true sandalwood tree grows to a height of about 10 metres (33 feet); has leathery leaves in pairs, each opposite the other on the branch; and is partially parasitic on the roots of other tree species. Both tree and roots contain a yellow aromatic oil, called sandalwood oil, the odour of which persists for years in such articles as ornamental boxes, furniture, and fans made of the white sapwood. The oil is obtained by steam distillation of the wood and is used in perfumes, soaps, candles, incense, and folk medicines. Powdered sandalwood is used in the paste applied to make Brahman caste marks and in sachets for scenting clothes.

Sandalwood trees have been cultivated since antiquity for their yellowish heartwood, which plays a major role in many Oriental funeral ceremonies and religious rites. The trees are slow growing, usually taking about 30 years for the heartwood to reach an economically useful thickness.

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Sandalwood an Introduction and History

A fragrant wood which originates from India and Australia. It is harvested from Santalum trees. The essential oil which is extracted from sandalwood has a bright, fresh smell with a wooden base note. It is often used in the manufacture of perfumes as it is excellent as a base from which the perfumer can begin to create a new perfume. When other fragrances are added; the sandalwood acts in a fixative capacity to complement and enhance other ingredients very well.
Sandalwood unlike several other fragrant woods retains its fragrance for many years. It can often last for several decades if correctly stored. As well as the extraction of essential oils, the wood itself can also be used; the shavings have the same distinctive and pleasing aroma which is released when burnt as incense. The process of burning sandalwood acts to release a very strong, pleasant aroma; this property makes sandalwood the ideal wood for incense. Sandalwood has been used in this manner for thousands of years. Its value has long been recognized by many cultures, usually for use in religious ceremonies. In Hinduism, sandalwood was ground into as incense paste and burnt both as an offering to deities and to cleanse the air and atmosphere to felicitate a meditative atmosphere.
The sandalwood chips are prepared by grinding by hand against specially shaped granite slabs. Water is slowly added to make a paste. Saffron is then added to make Chandan incense.
The Hindus were not the only culture to recognize the properties of sandalwood and use it in incense; it is also very popular in Buddhist rituals. The Buddhists’ burn sandalwood incense to transform desires and promote human mindfulness. It is used in a similar way in Hinduism as both an offering to the Buddha and to prepare the atmosphere for meditation. Sandalwood is one of the most popular incenses used in India, China and Japan. Today it is used all over the world while still remaining vitally important to these areas where it is still used as part of modern religious ceremonies.

In western culture the incense is used for relaxation and to create a pleasant aroma throughout the home. While this use often does not carry the same specific religious importance of sandalwood’s use in eastern countries, it does serve a very similar purpose, often allowing a person to relax and unwind. Sandalwood incense has become a major export of India and an important part of the economy. Its usefulness as a perfume also means that the essential oils are often used in aromatherapy oils and heavily in the cosmetic industry. Sandalwood remains highly valued all over the world and is still used in the same way as it has been for thousands of years, as one of the very best and most popular available fragrant aromas for incense.

PERTH (Australia) • In a climatic sweet spot running across northern Australia, 15 years of patience may be about to pay off for two of the world’s biggest growers of plantation sandalwood.

The parasitic trees – prized for their aromatic wood and essential oil that is used in perfumes, cosmetics and medicines – are approaching maturity, more than a decade after they were planted.

The trees are maturing just as prices soar amid a production shortfall from the biggest producer India and rising demand from China. A kilogram of Indian sandalwood oil now sells for about US$3,000 (S$4,255), or about five times as much as silver, and prices are rising by at least 20 to 25 per cent a year, according to the South India Sandalwood Products Dealers and Exporters Association. That makes the mature trees on the Australian plantations run by TFS Corp and KKR & Co-backed Santanol Group worth about US$1,500 apiece.

“You have a fundamental supply-demand imbalance,” TFS chief executive officer Frank Wilson said in an interview from Perth. “We are a price maker.”

Global demand for sandalwood is set to gain fivefold to 20,000 tonnes of wood a year in the decade to 2025, according to TFS, the largest plantation operator in Australia. China will account for half of the increase, where it is used in traditional medicines, handicrafts and fragrances. That comes as South India Sandalwood Products Dealers and Exporters Association honorary secretary M.M. Gupta says supply of legally sourced sandalwood from India is limited partly because of government restrictions on production and exports.

TFS plans to raise output thirtyfold to 10,000 tonnes of timber a year from its 12,000ha of plantations in northern Australia, including a large plantation area in Kununurra.

Mr Remi Clero, the CEO of Santanol, said: “The business can be very big.” Santanol currently sells the oil for just under US$3,000 per kg.

Santanol manages about 2,200ha of sandalwood in Kununurra, on the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory about 3,000km from Perth. It first harvested trees in 2014.

India has historically been the dominant supplier but sales from government auctions plunged in recent years due to over-exploitation and smuggling. Santanol’s plantation at Kununurra will be among the sources filling the gap, Mr Clero said.

Supply from India remains variable and fell to just 250 tonnes of wood a year last year, from almost 4,000 tonnes a year in 1970, according to government data. That variability increases the attractiveness of plantation supply.

“When you create a fragrance, a formula, you need to be able to give to your customers a consistent product,” Mr Clero said. “They need to be able to do deals with companies like ours for 10 years or more of guaranteed supply.”

India is not standing still, however. The government of Karnataka, one of the largest growers of sandalwood in India, is backing cultivation in a bid to rebuild supply. Some 470 farmers have so far agreed to join the plan covering an area of more than 800ha of land, according to the website of Karnataka Soap and Detergents, the state-backed company that oversees the programme.

Mr Gupta said there are about 2,400ha of sandalwood plantations in India, and the area planted is increasing by over 800ha annually.

Still, demand from new sectors, dwindling Indian output and the difficulty in replicating the maturing Australian plantation trees make TFS confident of the future.

The biggest growth in demand will come from pharmaceuticals and TFS is in the process of developing dermatological products to treat conditions including acne and psoriasis.

TFS customers include Estee Lauder, which uses sandalwood oil as a base note in its Pleasures brand perfume. “We need a lot more customers to absorb the supply but they are not very hard to find,” Mr Wilson said.


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