Santalum ellipticum

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻIliahi aloʻe
  • Lāʻau ʻala
  • ʻIliahialoʻe

Hawaiian Names

  • Iliahi aloe
  • Iliahialoe
  • Laau ala

Common Names

  • Coast sandalwood
  • Coastal sandalwood


  • Santalum album var. ellipticum
  • Santalum cuneatum
  • Santalum ellipticum var. littorale
  • Santalum freycinetianum var. ellipticum
  • Santalum freycinetianum var. littorale
  • Santalum littorale

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Sprawling Shrub
  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Mature Size, Width

ʻIliahialoʻe is known to have a spread of 10 feet or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Hedges
  • Provides Shade
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

Since usually the coastal ʻiliahialoʻe are low to medium shrubs, while inland plants tend to be trees, it is good to inquire about origin for use in landscape. It is important to plant out native sandalwood with a host plant, such as koa, koaiʻa or naio. However, ʻiliahialoʻe and ʻiliahi are not too choosy about host plants. The health of ʻiliahialoʻe and ʻiliahi is tied to the health of the neighboring plants. [4]

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers
  • Wood

Additional Fragrance Information

The flowers have a pleasant sandalwood smell. J.F. Rock notes: "The older and bigger the tree the more valuable it becomes, as its fragrance increases with small and young trees the roots only are fragrant." [2]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • Greenish-White

Additional Flower Color Information

Santalum ellipticum is one of the "white-fowered" sandalwoods along with ʻiliahi (S. paniculatum) and ʻiliahi or Involute sandalwood (S. involutum). [10]

ʻIliahialoʻe produces clusters of tiny greenish-white or cream-colored mild to very fragrant blossoms which are dioecious.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Spring
  • Summer

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

ʻIliahialoʻe blooms all year, forming reddish purple or dark purple drupes (fruits) which can be shiny or dull (glaucous) in appearance. ʻIliahialoʻe are dioecious.*

Red-vented bulbuls are attracted to the ripe fruits. If you intend to harvest seeds for future propagation, cover ripening fruits or pick them as soon as they ripen. Seeds from the unripe, green fruits will not usually germinate.


* Dioecious plants have male (staminate) reproductive flowers on one plant and female (pistiallate) flowers on another plant. Both are need to produced viable fruit found only on female plants.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves of ʻiliahialoʻe are about 1 to 2 1/2 inches long and are leathery to succulent in texture.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

ʻIliahialoʻe has dull (glaucous) or opaque grayish green leaves.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

ʻIliahialoʻe foliage resists most insect attacks but may get a mild infestation of white flies or scale.

leaf Growth Requirements


An application of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every six months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one half to one third of recommended strength. ʻIliahialoʻe seem to require extra iron. A good source is iron chelate in a liquid or granular form. Apply two or three times a year as directed.

Pruning Information

It is not necessary to prune this plant. But if it is required, prune lightly. Make sure the host plant(s) does not over compete and shade out ʻiliahialoʻe.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

After ʻiliahialoʻe is established, water once a month during the driest months. More often for coastal plants. An excellent xeric or drought tolerant plant for the landscape.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

ʻIliahialoʻe does best in full sun.

Spacing Information

For low growing forms, plant every six or so feet to form a nice low free-forming hedge. For tree forms, space about 10 feet or more apart.


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Coral


ʻIliahialoʻe does not like to be over-watered and black sooty mold on leaves will indicate this.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Hawaiʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

ʻIliahialoʻe is found in a variety of native and exotic habitats in dry open scrubland or forests from the shoreline to over 3,100 feet. A single specimen, apparently S. ellipticum, was found on at about 7,020 feet between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Santalum ellipticum var. ellipticum has been recorded from Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu (Waiʻanae Mountains, Koʻolau Mountains, and the central plains between the two mountain ranges), Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe (extirpated), Maui (West Maui, East Maui), and Hawaiʻi (Kohala Mountains to North Kona). [Joel Lau, Botanist]

ʻIliahialoʻe is common to uncommon on all the main islands but is rare on Kauaʻi. It is now extinct on Laysan (Kauō) and Kahoʻolawe. Though not recorded from Niʻihau, it undoubtedly grew there at one time. [3]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻIliahialoʻe and ʻiliahi belong to the Sandalwood family or Santalaceae which comprises about 1,000 species worldwide and includes several species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands in the genera Santalum, Exocarpus and Korthalsella.

Currently there are six endemic species in the Hawaiian Archipelago. [10]


The generic name Santalum is derived from santalon, the Greek name for sandalwood.

The specific epithet ellipticum is from the Latin ellipticus, oblong with rounded ends, in reference the shape of the leaves of this species.

Hawaiian Names:

Lāʻau ʻala literally means "sweet wood" or "fragrant wood."

Background Information

ʻIliahi and ʻiliahialoʻe are hemiparasitic, which means they derive some nutrients from their host but are not totally dependent on them as are other native plants such as mistletoe or hulumoa (Korthalsella spp.), kaunaʻoa (Cuscuta sandwichiana), and kaunaʻoa pehu (Cassytha filiformis)--all of which are parasitic. [4]

The Sandalwood Trade Story:

As with other Hawaiian sandalwoods, ʻiliahialoʻe was subject to the Sandalwood trade from 1790 to the early 1800's. Most of the sandalwood shipped from Hawaiʻi came from the lowlands and this species was one of those used in the trade. [3,4]

The captivating scent of the heartwood has fueled greed among men throughout the world. This was the case with a collaboration of Chinese, American and Hawaiian merchants and monarchy in the late 18th century. Due to China's, as well as a few other countries, insatiable appetite for sandalwood, the white sandalwood (Santalum album) imported from India was becoming scarce because of over harvesting and, even to this day, it is an endangered species.

With fewer imports from India, and with the help of American fur traders, China now turned their attention to the Hawaiian sandalwoods or ʻiliahi and ʻiliahialoʻe. From the 1790's to mid-1830's, ʻiliahi and the Hawaiian people who harvested the logs experienced an incredible hardship with the exportation of sandalwood to China. For obvious reasons, the Chinese in the Canton-Macao area began to call the Hawaiian Islands Tang Heung Shan [Tahn Heung Sahn], or the "Sandalwood Mountains." [6]

Many thousands of Hawaiians, at the order of the aliʻi, under Kamehameha I (the Great), left off agriculture and worked to supply the Sandalwood Trade. The consequences were devastating. Many of the common people (makaʻāinana) who were used as laborers died from exposure to cold weather, exhaustion, malnutrition, disease or other causes. As a result, during this dark period Hawaiʻi suffered through one of the worst famines in its history. [7]

By the mid-1830's, the sandalwood supply was nearly exhausted and the remaining inferior or smaller pieces were driving prices and demand down. Even naio (Myoporum spp.) was trying to be passed off as genuine sandalwood with little success. Naio has thus acquired the pitiful nickname "bastard sandalwood."

In 1839, King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) placed a kapu on the remaining ʻiliahi, reserving it for himself. By 1840 the Hawaiian sandalwood trade basically came to a finish. [8] Fortunately, the people, the land and the ʻiliahi have recovered but not without scars. While not as common as in the past, ʻiliahi and ʻiliahialoʻe are fairly easy to see in its native habitat though very large trees are still difficult to find.

Early Hawaiian Use

Though early Hawaiians may not have used sandalwood extensively, it was still valued.


The fragrant heartwood and bark of ʻiliahialoʻe was pounded to scent the bad odor of new kapa (tapa), and when added with coconut oil the would water proof the material. [1,4,11]


One older source (Charles Gaudichaud,1819) states that Hawaiians "used all fragrant plants, all flowers and even colored fruits" for lei making. The red or yellow were indicative of divine and chiefly rank; the purple flowers and fruit, or with fragrance, were associated with divinity. The leaves, new leaves (liko) and flowers of ʻiliahialoʻe were used for lei making by early Hawaiians. Because of their long-standing place in oral tradition, the leaves, new leaves (liko) and flowers of ʻiliahialoʻe were likely used for lei making by early Hawaiians, even though there are no written sources. [9]


The leaves were used as a shampoo for dandruff and head lice; and a drink from powdered material for male and female sex organs or "for sores of long duration." [1,4]


Sometimes used to make ʻūkēkē or musical bow. [4]

Other Uses:

Sometimes used as firewood. [4]

Additional References

[1] "Hawaiʻi's Vanishing Flora" by Bert Y. Kimura, page 79.
[2] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by J.F. Rock, page 131.

[3] "Distribution and Status of Sandalwood i Hawaiʻi" by Lani Stemmermann. Presented at the Symposium on Sandalwood of the Pacific, April 9-11, 1990, Honolulu, Hawaii.

[4] "The History of Human Impact on the Genus Santalum in Hawaiʻi" by Mark Merlin and Dan VanRavenswaay. Presented at the Symposium on Sandalwood of the Pacific, April 9-11, 1990, Honolulu, Hawaii.

[5] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 29.

[6] "A Hawaiian King Visits Hong Kong, 1881," Tin-Yuke Char, page 93; [accessed 12/15/08]

[7] "Part II--Species Descriptions Santalum freycinetianum Gaudich." by James A. Allen, Paul Smiths College, Paul Smiths, NY, pages 705-706.

[8] "The History of Human Impact on the Genus Santalum in Hawaiʻi" by Mark Merlin and Dan VanRavenswaay. Presented at the Symposium on Sandalwood of the Pacific, April 9-11, 1990, Honolulu, Hawaii.

[9] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 29.

[10] "Taxonomic Revsion of the Endangered Hawaiian Red-Flowered Sandalwoods (Santalum) and Discovery of an Ancient Hybrid Species" by Danica T. Harbaugh, pages 827, 829, 831, 833-838.

[11] "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" by A.C. Medeiros, C.F. Davenport & C.G. Chimera, page 26.



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