What Is a Sandalwood Tree?

The sandalwood tree is a fragrant botanical treasure, revered for its aromatic heartwood. Prized in perfumery and sacred rituals, this slow-growing tree embodies a rich cultural heritage. Its essential oil is a luxury in aromatherapy, offering a woody, exotic scent. Discover how sandalwood's allure has captivated civilizations—what secrets does its soothing fragrance hold for you?
Melanie Smeltzer
Melanie Smeltzer

The sandalwood tree, also sometimes called the Indian sandalwood or S. album, is a small, fragrant species in the Santalaceae family. Additionally, it belongs to the genus Santalum, which boasts 25 separate species that are also occasionally referred to as sandalwood. This tree, native to areas of the Indian subcontinent, is evergreen and hemiparasitic, meaning that it obtains a portion of its nourishment from other plants. It is considered vulnerable to extinction due to overzealous harvesting, but despite this, the oil from the wood of this tree is still a common ingredient in fragrances and cosmetics.

Though the sandalwood tree is native to semi-arid locations of India, it is often grown in northwestern Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and China. The height that this plant reaches often depends upon location. For instance, in Australia, it can grow to a relatively small 13 to 29 feet (4 to 9 m); however, in its native India, it can reach much larger heights of about 65 feet (20 m). Smaller varieties typically reach a girth of around 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m), while the larger-growing trees may get to around 8 feet (about 2.4 m).

Sandalwood extract is taken from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree.
Sandalwood extract is taken from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree.

The wood of the sandalwood tree can vary, and its appearance tends to differ according to the age of the plant. Color generally varies between a dark brown or deep gray, but may also be reddish brown or nearly black. Younger plants typically bear smooth bark, while older trees tend to display rough, red cracks. The heartwood, or the non-living, inner portion of the tree trunk, is generally light green or nearly white. Due largely to its sweet scent, the woody portion of the sandalwood tree is one of its most favored attributes, but the foliage and flowers are also important to its structure and aesthetic appeal.

Sandalwood trees are often grown in northwestern Australia.
Sandalwood trees are often grown in northwestern Australia.

Sandalwood tree leaves are generally oval shaped with pointed tips, but may also be long and wide at the center. They are often shiny and green on top, but bluish-gray at the bottom. The flowers can range in color from a purplish-brown to violet, and green to red, and typically appear in clusters. These trees also bear edible fruits that appear a couple of times a year, between April and May, and October and November. The fruits are generally red, purple, or black, have a spherical shape, and supple flesh that surrounds a stone-like seed covering.

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Discussion Comments


There are so many commercial uses for the sandalwood tree that many people don't even know that parts of the tree can be eaten. The native people of Australia eat the nuts and fruit from the sandalwood trees that grow in their country.


Oil from the sandalwood tree was used in medicines for many years. The oil was popular in skin medications that were made to clear up rashes and other skin irritations. However, sandalwood oil is strong and should always be diluted before it is put on the skin.


I would love to be able to grow sandalwood trees. Unfortunately, the trees need average year around temperatures in the neighborhood of 80 degrees. I live in an area with very cold winters, so I don't think I would have much luck keeping them alive.


I find it interesting that the sandalwood tree is valued more for its scent than its wood. The wood can be used to make very beautiful pieces of furniture. However it is the smell that the tree gives off that makes it so valuable.

The ground up wood from the trees is used to make incense. The smell of sandalwood is believed by some people to be beneficial in helping people to focus during meditation practices.

Maybe the biggest reason sandalwood trees are worth as much as they are is because the oil from the trees is used by cosmetic companies to make soaps and perfumes that are big sellers.

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    • Sandalwood extract is taken from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree.
      By: Elena Ray
      Sandalwood extract is taken from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree.
    • Sandalwood trees are often grown in northwestern Australia.
      By: Tupungato
      Sandalwood trees are often grown in northwestern Australia.