Sandalwood Project Receives Grant
A collaborative team of West Australian and Sri Lankan scientists have been awarded a Sri Lanka National Research Council Grant to help continue their international study to protect and repopulate the highly threatened sandalwood tree Santalum album.
Dhanushka says determining the quality of sandalwood is simple as standards have established for many years, but one of the challenges arose when dealing with seedling sample sizes.
Curtin School of Pharmacy PhD student Dhanushka Sugeeshwara Hettiarachchi says the team will use silviculture to set up a healthy sandalwood population in Sri Lanka.
He says that seeds will be selected from high quality sandalwood trees, rather than a single tree and that these seeds will be planted in nurseries. Being a semi-parasitic species, sandalwood taps the roots of surrounding trees for water and nutrients but photosynthesises independently. Using the study results, seedlings will be established with a proper host-tree species in pots then transferred into the ground.
“These silviculture methods are not just for successful seed germination but also for seedling health [and suitable host species] until they are planted with a suitable ground host,” Mr Hettiarachchi says.
Dhanushka says determining the quality of sandalwood is simple as standards have been established for many years, but one of the challenges arose when dealing with seedling sample sizes.
“It is a challenge because the seedling heartwood [sample] size is less than 1g. The main challenge is to use a database to identify the quality of sandalwood essential oils,” Mr Hettiarachchi says.
There are also plans to introduce the sandalwood to protected reserves and to home gardens of rural villagers in Sri Lanka. Dhanushka says this will benefit the community because “. . . sandalwood is one of the most expensive timbers in the world—it’s considered an asset to have a tree that could provide 100kg of quality heartwood”.
“It’s a huge boost to the villages as not many crops could yield such an income. Also it’s seen as a long term investment by many people. It’s also common practice in Western Australia and Southern India that sandalwood trees are added to value of a land in estimating the land value.” Hettiarachchi concluded.
An initial part of the study involving germination method development and host tree establishment was conducted within the Sri Jayewardenepura University. The study is a collaboration involving Sadaharitha Plantations Ltd and Wescorp Sandalwood Pty Ltd.
Sandalwood (Santalum album) is one of the oldest of all known aromatic materials and has a history that dates back over 4,000 years. Highly revered as a sacred fragrance by many religions around the world such as Buddhism and Hinduism, its wood has been used to make religious artefacts and fragrant incense for a vast range of devotional ceremonies.
The demand for this highly sought-after timber has led to over-harvesting, and over the past 10 years the availability of the heartwood that’s required for extracting sandalwood essential oil has diminished significantly.
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