Australian Sandalwood Tree used for Sandalwood oil, central Western Australia

Australian Sandalwood Oil and Sandalwood Tree Protection

Australian Sandalwood Oil and Sandalwood Tree Protection 

The Sandalwood Resource and Location in Australia

Sandalwood oil is mainly sourced from 2 species, Australia’s Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) and Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album).

The world has around 29 tropical or subtropical Sandalwoods or Santalum species.

Australia has in fact 6 species of Sandalwood (Santalum), however only Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) and to a much, much lesser extent Queensland Bush Plum (Santalum lanceolatum) are Australia’ commercial species.

Australian Sandalwood oil is obtained from the small Australian Sandalwood shrub or tree, growing 3 to 12 metres, it is found over a vast region of West Australia. Australian Sandalwood is found in nearly all parts of Western Australia, with an exception of not being found in the ‘Kimberlies’ in far north Western Australia. It is also found in a large region of South Australia and possibly in small parts of western Northern Territory.

The Australian Sandalwood plant requires a hosting tree, that is, where the Sandalwood roots will acquire water and nutrients from a nearby native plant’s roots. 

The first Australian Sandalwood tree was first harvested and exported to China in the 1844. Australian Sandalwood oil was first produced in Australia around the 1870’s.

Australian Sandalwood Tree Conservation and Protection

The harvesting of Australian Sandalwood oil and Sandalwood protection were 2 non related issues in the 19th and 20th century, the wheat belt regions were cleared for wheat and sheep, this saw the highly aggressive and unsustainable harvesting of Australian Sandalwood, most of which was then sold in simple timber log form, to Asian markets. 

Today, remaining wild trees of Australian Sandalwood are now much more sensibly harvested from Crown land, for the production of Australian Sandalwood oil, here in Australia for wood for incense in Asian markets,

Wild Australian Sandalwood trees are managed by the Forest Products Commission of Western Australia (FPC), this is to ensure the long term viability of the Australian Sandalwood resource. The FPC states that current estimated total area of distribution of Western Australian Sandalwood is approximately 161 million hectares, of which 49% is protected from any form of harvesting.

The FPC is responsible for commercial harvesting and regeneration of the wild Western Australian Sandalwood resource.

The FPC is also ultimately responsible for the marketing of Australian Sandalwood timber from Crown land.

Research

Research by the Murdoch University and the FPC, showed that the loss of the Woylie, a native marsupial by cats and foxes, had an impact on the regeneration of Australian Sandalwood, Woylies collect and hoard Australian Sandalwood seed for food. Uncollected Australian Sandalwood seed food and rain would then result in new Australian Sandalwood trees germinating. 

Knowing of the potential absence of the Woylie, the FPC harvesting contractors plant a minimum of 12 fresh seeds beneath two nearby hosting plants for each tree they harvest. 

Australian Sandalwood Plantations

Over the last 25 years the FPC, has undertaken research into establishing Australian Sandalwood plantations in Western Australia for the production of Australian Sandalwood oil. The FPC shares research with commercial growers and farmers to encourage plantation development. 

The FPC has been conducting plantation trials in Western Australia’s wheat belt, thereby offering wheat belt growers the benefit of native plant revegetation on their property and a potential future and diversified income. The FPC has done trials on the best locations, the best host plants to plant with, fertiliser methods, spacings and more.

It is anticipated these trees in the Western Australia wheat belt will be ready for harvest to produce Australian Sandalwood oil in 20 years. however more arid areas require a longer time frame.

It was estimated in 2006 by the FPC about 2000 hectares of Australian Sandalwood had been established in the Western Australian wheat belt region. An estimate in 2007 suggested the total wheat belt and non wheat belt area under plantation in Western Australia of Australian Sandalwood was around 13,000 hectares.

Australian Sandalwood plantations and re-vegetations are offering farmers and pastoralists a great opportunity to plant a naturally hardy native plant as a crop, when often no other potential crop may exist, in particular, in the very arid regions. 

In Western Australia’s Kimberly region, large managed investment companies have financed very large Indian Sandalwood tree plantations, mainly for the Sandalwood oil and Sandalwood incense stick markets.

Harvesting, Farming and Distillation of Australian Sandalwood Oil

The need to plant out Australian Sandalwood trees is brought about as the tree parts harvested include the branches, trunk and root ball.

The timber is then wood chipped into pieces the size of less than half a finger nail, the chipped timber is then sent to a specialised steam distillation plant. The steam distillation process can take up to a week! as the Australian Sandalwood oil is held very tightly within the grain of the wood. 

Summary

The long term future should ensure the harvesting of sustainable Australian Sandalwood. Provided trees are harvested when mature, the resulting Australian Sandalwood oil should be of an excellent quality. There are opportunities for farmers to establish a native crop, as Australian Sandalwood is acclimatised to the Australian weather vagaries and poor soils, quality Australian Sandalwood oil will easily finds it place into a long established market. You should feel Australian Sandalwood future is in safe hands, if not you can speak to the Australian government.