Australian Biological Resources Study

Species Bank Home

Santalum album (Family Santalaceae)

East Indian sandalwood, sandalwood, cendana


The main distribution is in the drier, tropical regions of India and the Indonesian islands of Timor and Sumba. The Australian distribution is limited to the northern coast of the Northern Territory. There is still debate as to whether sandalwood was originally introduced centuries ago by fishermen or birds from Indonesia. The latitudinal range is 11-14o S and it is found from near sea level to 250 m. (NT)


An evergreen shrub or small tree to 4 m tall but grows larger in its distribution outside Australia. Sandalwood is a root parasite and needs a suitable host plant for successful growth. The bark is rough, fissured and dark grey. The leaves are ovate, mostly 2.5-7 cm long and 1.5-4 cm wide, light green above and slightly paler underneath with a stalk 5-15 mm long. The flowers are small, reddish or green, about 4-6 mm long with up to six in a small cluster. They appear December - January and also June - August. The fruits are fleshy, dark red to black, 7-10 mm in diameter and single-seeded. There are about 6000-7000 seeds per kilogram. Fresh seed will not germinate readily without pre-treatment such as manual abrasion.

Ecology/Way of Life:

This species occurs in the hot, humid climatic zone where temperatures are high throughout the year and there are no frosts. Mean annual rainfall is 1000-1500 mm in a strong monsoonal pattern with most rain in December-March. It is found on low, lateritic cliffs near the beach, on coastal sand dunes and near mangroves. The soils are of variable texture, neutral to alkaline and well-drained. It occurs in typical monsoon vine thickets.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The heartwood is usually formed in trees after about 20 years of age. It is used for carving and is prized a source of sandalwood oil used in the fragrance industry. It has been established in plantations in the north of Western Australia. It makes a good ornamental and low-branching wind break species. The fruits are edible. The sensitivity of young trees to fire and grazing animals is a disadvantage.

Other Comments:

Santalum album was named by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753; the genus name is based on the Greek santalon = sandalwood; the species name relates to Latin albus = white, apparently referring to the light coloured bark.

Further Reading:

Brock, J. 2001. Native plants of northern Australia. Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Doran, J.C. and Turnbull, J.W. (eds.) 1997. Australian trees and shrubs; species for land rehabilitation and farm planting in the tropics. ACIAR Monograph no. 24. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. 384p.

Gjerum, L., Fox , J.E.D. and Ehrhart, Y. (eds.) 1995. Sandalwood seed, nursery and plantation technology. RAS/92/361 Field Document no.8. FAO, Rome.

McKinnell, F.H. (ed.) 1993. Sandalwood in the Pacific region. ACIAR Proceedings no 49. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. 43p.

Radomilijac, A.M., Ananthapadmanabho, H.s., Welbourn, R.M. and Satyanarayana Rao, K. (eds.) 1998. Sandal and its products. ACIAR Proceedings no 84. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. 204p.

Topics: Parasitic plants Aromatic oils Timber Climatic zones Soils Vegetation types Fodder Medicinal use Ornamental Commercial use Germination


Text & map from Australian Trees and Shrubs, courtesy Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; text edited by J. Turnbull; photo courtesy J. Turnbull.

Sponsored by:

John Turnbull/ACIAR


Distribution Map

Attached Images

Return to Species Bank home



   Links to another web site
   Opens a pop-up window