Sandalwood Dreams, Part 3: Planting Santalum album Sandalwood in Australia

12th December, 2013

This is the third in a series of posts by Jordan River (of The Fragrant Man website) about the myths and legends of sandalwood, as well as day by day coverage of the 2013 Santalum album sandalwood harvest currently taking place in Australia. There are links to the previous posts at the foot of the article.

In the 80′s Jean Paul Guerlain travelled to India on a supply trip for the perfume Samsara, and found sandalwood in “neatly lined-up drums bearing the labels of companies well-known in the perfume industry!” (My Journeys in the World of Perfume p. 91). He found sandalwood ‘from’ India rather than grown there.

The demise of Mysore Sandalwood, Santalum album, from India is well documented and much lamented especially by perfumers and connoisseurs of perfume. High demand, tree pirates and smugglers as well as poor forest management have made this commodity a non-export item from Mysore. There is extremely low supply even within India where non-government sales of sandalwood oil are banned and the government has very little if not none at all to sell. In September 2013 six people were arrested in India for cutting down three trees valued at $US800 on the black market for raw sandalwood for distillation. Also in September $US479,991 of stolen sandalwood was recovered by the Indian government. In Australia tree poaching of the native sandalwood, Santalum spicatum, is on the rise. In 1998 sandalwood from all parts of India was listed as vulnerable (two steps away from ‘extinct in the wild’) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. A major threat listed by the IUCN is that…

Smuggling has assumed alarming proportions.

The Red List

International Union for Conservation of Nature

Image: IUCN


There is a native Australian sandalwood called Santalum spicatum which is often used in perfumery but is considered to have a less beautiful scent profile than the preferred woody creaminess of Mysore sandalwood, Santalum album.

The root-stock of the Mysore variety, Santalum album was planted in Australian plantations in 1999 and right now it is harvest time. We will follow the harvest over the next few days from soil to oil.

Let’s call the Mysore sandalwood root-stock grown in Australia Australian album to differentiate it from the native Australian species as well as from the Mysore terroir.

First let’s look at the planting.

The largest sandalwood grower in Australia, Tropical Forestry Services (TFS) has a purpose-built nursery with the capacity to produce over 500,000 Santalum album seedlings per planting season.

Australian album nursery. Photo: TFS


They have an astonishing 7,600 hectares of trees planted in the tropical north of Australia.

The dots in the shaded area indicate where the Australian album (Santalum album planted in Australia) plantations are located.

Sustainable harvesting practices will preserve the fragrant wood for generations to come.

Nursery irrigation of the seedlings.

Photo: TFS

Australian album – ready for transfer to the plantation.

Photo: TFS

Planting Australian album.

Photo: TFS

Australian album tree all grown up.


We will check on these trees planted in 1999 tomorrow.

September 2013 saw the beginning of the first portion of the harvest which we will be reporting on tomorrow.


Sandalwood Dreams Series - by Jordan River


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    • gimmegreen | 18th December 2013 20:11

      This takes me back to my childhood in India. We had two (slow-growing) sandalwood trees in our garden. I always knew these trees were regarded as special, though to a child they didn't do anything exciting, like producing beautiful flowers or edible fruit. Of course I was aware of the scent of the wood, but one doesn't experience that from a growing tree.

      Years later, when I was a young adult, my poor mother woke up one afternoon from her nap to find that thieves (who had obviously been scoping out the household's habits) had sawn down the trees and carted them off. In the hubbub of an urban Indian afternoon the sounds of the trees being cut down didn't ring out enough to wake her.

      Some sapling did remain but it was years before they had turned into the slenderest of trees.

    • Jordan88888888 | 19th December 2013 22:07

      What a shocking story but thank you for sharing this sandalwood tree experience Gimmegreen. If you pop over to Part 8 there is a draw for Sandalwood Oil. Maybe that will soothe this unpleasant memory? Kush Raho.

    • hednic | 19th November 2015 20:23

      Very interesting article which I hadn't seen before.

    • Jack Hunter | 19th November 2015 23:21

      Excellent article which shows the decline of Mysore in India but gives hope that Australia will one day take over as a source of top grade Sandalwood.