Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is a small tree usually 3–5 m tall and is a native to WA. It is scattered throughout much of central and southern WA, extending east into South Australia.
Sandalwood trees are known as ‘root hemi-parasites’, which means they require another tree or ‘host tree’ to grow. Host trees provide extra water and nutrients to the sandalwood, delivered by unique root connections. The two trees form a symbiotic relationship and live together throughout the life of the sandalwood tree. The best host species are nitrogen fixing plants (plants that convert nitrogen from the air into fertiliser for their growth), especially wattles (Acacia trees), which are also native to WA.
The Corridors for Climate Change Project supports the creation of carefully planned out and strategically placed sandalwood plantations.
Benefits of Sandalwood Planting
Sandalwood trees can have economic benefits, but they also have many environmental benefits. These include:
- protection of soil from water and wind erosion,
- improved soil fertility, reduction of salinity in the soil,
- increased biodiversity,
- restoration of ecological connectivity,
- provision of long-term sustainable habitat,
- climate change resilience, and
- carbon capture and storage.
To maintain and improve these environmental benefits it’s important that a diverse mix of host tree species are available and that no native vegetation is cleared to accommodate the new plantation. It’s best to establish them on land that has already been cleared to avoid disturbing natural ecosystems, increasing habitat loss or creating further environmental damage.
Australian Sandalwood Market
Sandalwood is best known for its aromatic oil and timber, used in the production of incense, perfumes and cosmetics. It has been part of WA’s history since it was first exported in 1840. It is a rapidly depleting timber commodity with an ever-increasing global market. Over the past ten years the price of Australian sandalwood has continued to increase, indicating an unsatisfied demand for the commodity worldwide. With dwindling natural stands, the market for plantation grown sandalwood is strong. Since the uses for sandalwood are so diverse, fluctuations in a single market use will not necessarily affect the overall demand for the product.
Sandalwood can be harvested in as little as seven years of age for certain uses, although the quality of the wood is low due to the small amount of heartwood. Commercially, Australian plantation sandalwood is harvested between the ages of 12 to 20 years. Sandalwood also produces a valuable nut (seed) from the age of four years.
Sandalwood trees are adaptable, high value tree crops for the farmer who wants to diversify and address land degradation issues on their farm. A low input, long-term crop requiring little in the way of herbicide or pesticide use, it is well adapted for establishment on areas of cleared farmland. To add to this adaptability, the sandalwood tree will also tolerate many different soil types (sandy-loam over clay, loamy, gravel, yellows sands, red sands and even Wodjil sands) and varied rainfall zones (as little as 250mm per year).