Santalum album, or Indian sandalwood, is a small tropical tree, and is the most commonly known source of sandalwood. It is native to India, Indonesia, and the Malay Archipelago. Certain cultures place great significance on its fragrant and medicinal qualities. It is also considered sacred in some religions and is used in different religious traditions. The high value of the species has caused its past exploitation, to the point where the wild population is vulnerable to extinction. Indian sandalwood still commands high prices for its essential oil, but due to lack of sizable trees it is no longer used for fine woodworking as before. The plant is widely cultivated and long lived, although harvest is viable after 40 years. Etymologically it is derived from Sanskrit चन्दनं chandanam.
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The height of the evergreen tree is between 4 and 9 metres. They may live to one hundred years of age. The tree is variable in habit, usually upright to sprawling, and may intertwine with other species. The plant parasitises the roots of other tree species, with a haustorium adaptation on its own roots, but without major detriment to its hosts. An individual will form a non-obligate relationship with a number of other plants. Up to 300 species (including its own) can host the tree's development - supplying macronutrients phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, and shade - especially during early phases of development. It may propagate itself through wood suckering during its early development, establishing small stands. The reddish or brown bark can be almost black and is smooth in young trees, becoming cracked with a red reveal. The heartwood is pale green to white as the common name indicates. The leaves are thin, opposite and ovate to lanceolate in shape. Glabrous surface is shiny and bright green, with a glaucous pale reverse. Fruit is produced after three years, viable seeds after five. These seeds are distributed by birds.
The nomenclature for other "sandalwoods" and the taxonomy of the genus are derived from this species' historical and widespread use. Santalum album is included in the family Santalaceae, and is commonly known as white or East Indian sandalwood. The name, Santalum ovatum, used by Robert Brown in Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae (1810) was described as a synonym of this species by Alex George in 1984. The epithet album refers to the 'white' of the heartwood.
The species was the first to be known as sandalwood. Other species in the genus Santalum, such as the Australian S. spicatum, are also referred to as true sandalwoods, to distinguish them from trees with similar-smelling wood or oil.
It is a hemiparasitic tree, native to semi-arid areas of the Indian subcontinent. It is now planted in India, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Northern Australia.
S. album occurs from coastal dry forests up to 700 m elevation. It normally grows in sandy or stony red soils, but a wide range of soil types are inhabited. This habitat has a temperature range from 0 to 38 °C and annual rainfall between 500 and 3000 mm. S. album can grow up to 30 feet vertically. It should be planted in good sunlight and does not require a lot of water. The tree starts to flower after 7 years. When the tree is still young the flowers are white and with age they turn red or orange. The trunk of the tree starts to develop its fragrance after about 10 years of growth. The tree is parasitic so it gathers nutrients from its surrounding environment.
S. album is recognized as a "vulnerable" species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is threatened by over-exploitation and degradation to habitat through altered land use, fire (to which this species is extremely sensitive), Spike disease, agriculture, and land-clearing are the factors of most concern. To preserve this vulnerable resource from over-exploitation, legislation protects the species, and cultivation is researched and developed.
Until 2002, individuals in India were not allowed to grow sandalwood. Due to its scarcity, sandalwood is not allowed to be cut or harvested by individuals. The State grants specific permission to officials who then can cut down the tree and sell its wood. The Indian government has placed a ban on the export of the timber.
S. album has been the primary source of sandalwood and the derived oil. These often hold an important place within the societies of its naturalised distribution range. The central part of the tree, the heartwood, is the only part of the tree that is used for its fragrance. It is yellow-brown in color, hard with an oily texture and due to its durability, is the perfect material for carving. The outer part of the tree, the sapwood, is unscented. The sapwood is white or yellow in color and is used to make turnery items. The high value of sandalwood has led to attempts at cultivation, this has increased the distribution range of the plant. The ISO Standard for the accepted characteristics of this essential oil is ISO 3518:2002. HPTLC and GC, GC-MS based methods are used for qualitative and quantitative analyses of the volatile  essential oil constituents. The long maturation period and difficulty in cultivation have been restrictive to extensive planting within the range. Harvest of the tree involves several curing and processing stages, also adding to the commercial value. These wood and oil have high demand and are an important trade item in the regions of:
Sandalwood oil has been widely used in folk medicine for treatment of common colds, bronchitis, skin disorders, heart ailments, general weakness, fever, infection of the urinary tract, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, liver and gallbladder complaints and other maladies. Recently, the in vivo anti-hyperglycemic and antioxidant potentials of α-santalol and sandalwood oil were demonstrated in Swiss Albino mice. Additionally, different in vitro and in vivo parts of the plant have been shown to possess antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, possibly attributed to sesquiterpenoids, shikimic acid, etc.