NOTICE: Hard copies of the Australian New Crops Newsletter are available from the publisher, Dr Rob Fletcher. Details of availability are included in theAdvice on Publications Available.
Contribution from Andrew Rado, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Kununurra, Western Australia.
Sandalwood has long been used by man and it plays an important role as a ceremonial burning material during religious rites of Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis and Moslems in South-east Asia. The high value of the wood and the oil has led to a steady decline of native sandalwood trees and increasing efforts to establish plantations. Work is being undertaken in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) to grow sandalwood under irrigated plantation conditions.
Sandalwood is the source of sandalwood oil, a high value oil used in perfumes, soaps and incenses. The wood itself is also prized for woodcarving. Some thirty species of sandalwood occur throughout Asia, Australia and the Pacific region; six species are native to Australia. One species, Santalum spicatum, is presently being harvested in the Goldfields region of Western Australia and sells for about $10 000 per tonne.
Santalum album, a native of Indonesia, is the most valuable species, with the wood containing about 7% oil. It is currently being harvested from natural stands in Indonesia and sells for $23 000 per tonne. Unfortunately, the resource is being rapidly depleted due to unsustainable harvesting. The perceived rotation length of S. album in Indonesia and the ORIA in northern Australia is 20 to 30 years which is much shorter than the 100 years for the native Australian species, Santalum spicatum.
Australian research on Santalum album began in 1983 in the ORIA with some 150 trees being planted. Plantings have steadily increased in recent years. Results of the preliminary plantings were sufficiently encouraging for the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) to appoint a full time research officer in 1992 to work on the sandalwood program.
An important characteristic of sandalwood is that it is a parasite that attaches to the root system of the host tree. Fortunately, the host range appears to be wide, offering the possibility of growing sandalwood in combination with horticultural tree crops, such as mango and cashews or tropical timber species, such as mahogany and teak.
It is not known how long the sandalwood trees grown under irrigated plantation conditions will take to reach maturity, but it is expected to be at least 20 years. Sandalwood oil is produced only in the heartwood so current research is examining the rate of growth of heartwood and the changes in oil content over time, to determine the optimum time to harvest the crop.
As the world's native sandalwood resources decline, prices can be expected to rise substantially over time. While the commercial prospects appear very encouraging at this stage, much more research is required to establish viable production systems.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF