There are 16 species of sandalwood, five of which occur in Australia. Santalum Album is called Indian Sandalwood and is the most valuable of all the sandalwood species due to the high oil content of its heartwood and the high quality of its oil. There is on average three times as much oil in Indian Sandalwood as there is in Santalum Spicatum, which is native to Western Australia and has generated significant export revenue for the state.
The quality of sandalwood oil is determined by its santalol content. Indian Sandalwood oil contains over 90% santalol, whilst Western Australian Sandalwood contains only 15% santalol. Reduction in the time required before harvest is another benefit of the Indian variety. Indian Sandalwood, if grown in a tropical environment and on fully irrigated and fertile soils, is available to be ready for harvest by 15 years.
Background in the ORIA
The Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management has been researching the growing of Indian Sandalwood in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) since the mid 1980’s and has made significant discoveries in a variety of areas including; propagation of seedlings, selection of host species, density of planting and plantation management practices. Commercial operators have been establishing Indian Sandalwood plantations in the ORIA since 1997.
Why the ORIA
The ORIA meets all the conditions necessary for growing Indian Sandalwood, which include:
Land which is laser leveled to prevent waterlogging
Abundance of readily available irrigated water from Lake Argyle and the Ord River
Soils are fertile, free draining and of the heavy cracking type which deters attack from termites.
There is a strong international market for sandalwood. The oil from sandalwood is among the oldest known perfumery materials. The major perfume houses and cosmetic industries prefer the oil of the Indian Sandalwood, because of its high oil content and quality, and are prepared to pay a premium for it. It is estimated that greater than 90% of all sandalwood harvested is used in the production of oil.
Sandalwood is currently imported by the Middle East, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Australia, the UK and the USA. However, the main market for sandalwood oil is Asia. Sandalwood is used in Asia in a variety of ways:
In the production of perfumes, soaps and creams
In the manufacture of joss sticks which are burned during Hindu and Buddist religious ceremonies
In the manufacture of coffins for burial
Medicinally, as an antiseptic, antipyretic, diuretic, expectorant stimulant and for the treatment of bronchitis, gonorrhea and urinary infections
For intricate woodcarvings and furniture
Markets are developing in Australia and other western countries. The oil has long been used as a base for many European perfumes. It is also in demand in the western world for its use in aromatherapy and fragrant body care products.
The Sandalwood Sanctuary began its first small harvest in 2014 for an Australian supplier to the Chinese herbal medicine market. In 2016 our sandalwood was sold to both Australian and Taiwanese buyers. In 2017 our sandalwood was sold to an Australian buyer with contracts to European perfume companies. From 2017-2020, we have begun the process of commercial harvesting.