The sandalwood tree is an aromatic tree native to the tropics of Asia. Some people use the term to refer generically to all trees in the Santalum genus, while others reserve it specifically for S. album, also known as white or Nepalese sandalwood. Many people around the world enjoy the tree and its products, since it has a distinctive rich scent that is used in a variety of perfumes, incenses, and wood products. This extensive popularity has unfortunately threatened populations of trees in Asia.
Members of the Santalum genus are hemiparasitic, which means that they rely partially on other species for valuable nutrients and water. These trees tap the roots of their target species, diverting useful materials. They are found most widely in relatively dry forests across Asia, and they are all woody, producing colorful flowers. Many species develop fruits that are used in an assortment of foods, including jellies and preserves. Some people grow these trees as ornamentals for their gardens, enjoying the bright flowers and distinctive red fruits as well as the foliage.
As true sandalwood matures, it develops an aromatic oil. The oil takes around 15 years to develop, and most people prefer to let the trees mature to as much as 80 years old before harvesting them, ensuring ample supplies of the oil and allowing the oil to fully permeate the wood of the tree. Typically, sandalwood is harvested by toppling, so that the oil in the lower part of the trunk can be used. Because the wood is so heavily harvested, it is almost extinct in India, and it is considered an endangered species in other countries.
Cultivation of sandalwood has been successful in some regions, although it requires extensive effort and patience, since the trees must be allowed to mature. Host trees must also be planted to feed the saplings, and they require careful management to ensure that they do not overshadow the developing trees. Conservation organizations encourage the cultivation of sandalwood, in the hopes that the valuable species will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
Pure sandalwood oil is often available from natural foods stores, for use in making perfume blends or in aromatherapy diffusers. It is also mixed into incense blends, and some companies sell products made from the wood, ranging from fans to chests. Since sandalwood naturally deters insects, many people like to store important items in boxes made from it.