Sandalwood – Santalum spp.

Overall At-Risk Score: 75

Latin Name:

Santalum sp. (L.); S. ellipticum, S. freycinetianum, S. haleakalae, S. paniculatum, S. salicifolium, S. album¹, S. involutum, S. pyrularium²

Common Name:

Sandalwood; Coastal Sandalwood, Forest Sandalwood, Haleakalae Sandalwood, Mountain Sandalwood, Willowleaf Sandalwood¹


Santalacea¹ (Sandalwood Family)

Geographic Region:

All species listed above are found only on the islands of Hawaii, except for S. album which was introduced from India.


Each species is adapted to its specific ecosystem, from the mountains to the coastal forests, of Hawaii. They require year-round growing season, with tropical heat and moisture.


Long lived trees


Sandalwood trees produce clusters of small flowers, in a variety of colors, at the ends of leafing twigs. These flower clusters become clusters of small, hard seeds surrounded by a thin fleshy skin.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

Being a slow growing tree, Santalum sp. are heavily impacted by logging and agricultural development.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

S. freycinetianum is recognized as “Endangered”, and S. haleakalae is listed as “Vulnerable”³ by the IUCN Red List

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The wood and the oils from the wood in perfume scents and many different skincare products, and has been a popular product for centuries through much of East Asia.⁵

Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:

These trees are endemic to the various island of Hawaii, meaning their possible habitat is incredibly limited. This creates an urgency in efforts to conserve these trees, as urban development, agriculture, and forestry continue to encroach on these small ecosystems.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Demand for the oil of Indian Sandalwood (S. album) creates a market for extracting oil from Hawaii’s native Sandalwood.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Luxury items derived from slow growing lumber, like the oil of the Sandalwood trees, are often very unsustainably managed and have drastic impacts on the ecology of where these resources are being extracted.

  1. USDA PLANTS. Santalum sp.
  2. University of Hawai’i. Hawaiian Native Plant Genera.
  3. IUCN Red List. S. haleakalae.
  4. IUCN Red List. S. freycinetianum.
  5. Ronald and Levenson. Sandalwood Album Oil as a Botanical Therapeutic in Dermatology

sandalwood webNative Hawaiian Sandalwood is extremely vulnerable to overharvesting and risk of extinction due to the fact that it takes more that 40 years to mature, and harvesting involves taking the entire tree. Furthermore the sandalwood tree is a hemi-parasite species meaning that it needs to grow along with certain host plants making it a very tricky species to reforest successfully.

Sandalwood’s extraordinary fragrance, versatility, and medicinal properties have put it in high demand for centuries, all over the world. This is why Hawaii’s native sandalwood population was almost completely decimated during the infamous sandalwood trade that took place during 1815-1825.

Despite this terrible time in Hawaii’s history, Hawaii still remains the only region in the world where sandalwood is being commercially harvested with out regulation. Native Hawaiian Sandalwood represents a quarter of the diversity of the genera Santalum. Six separate species are found through out the islands, and within these species are several unique varieties, all endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Santalum freycinetianum var.

Lanaiense has already been officially recognized as endangered. Therefore UpS has added the six native species S. pyrularium, S. involutum, S. freycinetianum, S. haleakalea, S. Paniculatum, S. elliticum to the ‘At-Risk’ list, in an effort to bring about stewardship of these living Hawaiian heirlooms that desperately need regulations that will provide guidelines to its management and protection.

The Hawaiian Sandalwood Video Project

leafpeoplelogo webArticles of interest:

Sandalwood Research: A Global Perspective (152 KB PDF)

Big Island, Small Planet (566 KB PDF)