Santalum freycinetianum

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Lāʻau ʻala
  • Wahie ʻala
  • ʻAoa
  • ʻAʻahi
  • ʻIliahi

Hawaiian Names

  • Aahi
  • Aoa
  • Iliahi
  • Laau ala
  • Wahie ala

Common Names

  • Forest sandalwood
  • Freycinet sandalwood
  • Sandalwood


  • Santalum freycinetianum var. longifolium
  • Santalum longifolium

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Mature Size, Width

Typically with a 10 to 20 foot canopy width, and a maximum of a 30 ft. or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

These are beautiful native trees that deserve more attention in our landscapes. ʻIliahi is not difficult grow and flourish.

It is important to plant out ʻiliahi with a host plant, such as koa, koaiʻa or naio. However, ʻiliahi are not too choosy about host plants. The health of ʻiliahi is tied to the health of the neighboring plants. [7]

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers
  • Wood

Additional Fragrance Information

Flowers are mildly scented to unscented, but the heartwood is very fragrant in 30+ years old trees.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Pink
  • Red
  • White
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

The flowers are longer than they are wide and red to yellow or cream in bud and inner surface of the flower (corolla) is pink to dark red.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Under good conditions, ʻiliahi may start flowering and fruiting at about 3 or 4 years with a heavier production at 7 to 10 years. Though trees may flower throughout the year, they usually begin during late summer and fall, but flowering also occurs in later winter and early spring. [3]

After flowering, reddish to dark purple fruits (drupes). Fruits and seeds immediately sink in water.

The introduced Red-vented bubul (Pycnonotus cafer) has been observed eating ʻiliahi drupes. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves are from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches long or occasionally longer. They have a glaucous (opaque) and almost wilted appearance to them. Young leaves are purple tinged.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Young or new leaves (liko) are tinged with a beautiful combination of red, pink, mauve, purple, orange and/or yellow.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Few pests bother healthy ʻiliahi. In weakened stages whitefly or scale may infest plants. A protective barrier may be used for newly planted saplings from slugs, snails, and other pests.

leaf Growth Requirements


When younger 13-13-13 slow release fertilizer every six months is beneficial. Saplings do appreciate foliar feeding in early morning with a water-soluble or an organic fertilizer (e.g. kelp or fish emulsion) at one-third to one-fourth the recommended strength monthly or every other month. ʻIliahi seem to require extra iron. A good source is iron chelate in a liquid or granular form. Apply two or three times a year. [3]

Pruning Information

Though some pruning may be required, more attention should be given to keeping the surrounding vegetation in check so that sufficient light is provided and so that it will not overwhelm the slower growing ʻiliahi.

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Once established generally little extra water is require except in perhaps periods of drought.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

ʻIliahi can survive in 60-70% shade but grow slowly. Preferably 25% shade from nearby low brush is good. Partial sun when first planted out at under a foot or less in height. When roots attach to host they should be able to handle the full sun. Look for signs of new growth for an established plant.


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Organic


Will not tolerate waterlogging of two weeks or more without good drainage.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Oʻahu

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

The Santalum freycinetianum is found in the mesic to dry forests of Oʻahu.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻIliahi and ʻiliahialoʻe 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.

This species (S. freycinetianum) has recently undergone taxon changes. It longer has varieties and is now endemic only to Oʻahu. 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 freycinetianum is named in honor of Captain Loius de Freycinet (1779-1840), commander of the French exploration on board of which was Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupre, the first Western botanist to come to the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiian Names:

Lāʻau ʻala lietrally 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. [7]

The Sandalwood Trade Story:

The captivating scent of sandalwood's 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 Hawaii 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 a 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 ʻiliahi wood extensively, it was still valued. Besides used as firewood, the light yellow wood was sometimes used to make ʻūkēkē or musical bow. [6]

Medicinally, 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." [1,6]

The fragrant heartwood and bark of ʻiliahi was pounded to scent the smell of new kapa (tapa), and when added with coconut oil the would water proof the material. [1,6]

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. Because of their long-standing place in oral tradition, the leaves, new leaves (liko) and flowers of ʻiliahi were likely used for lei making by early Hawaiians, even though there are no written sources.

Modern Use

Although ʻiliahi (S. freycinetianum) did not make useful charcoal, residents in Hawaiʻi burned it as a mosquitto repellant in the early 20th century. [8]

Additional References

[1] [Accessed on 11/10/08]
[2] "A Hawaiian King Visits Hong Kong, 1881," Tin-Yuke Char, page 93; [accessed 12/15/08]
[3] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 70.
[4] "Part II--Species Descriptions Santalum freycinetianum Gaudich." by James A. Allen, Paul Smiths College, Paul Smiths, NY, pages 705-706.
[5] "A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawaiʻi Island" Chapter IV: Founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 5.New Era in Hawaiian Commerce, b) Sandalwood Trade [accessed 12/16/08]

[6] "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.

[7] "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.

[8] "Traditional Trees of the Pacific Islands" by Craig R. Elevitch, pages 696, 698, 702, 703, 705, 709.

[9] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 28.

[10] "Taxonomic Revsion of the Endangered Hawaiian Red-Flowered Sandalwoods (Santalum) and Discovery of an Ancient Hybrid Species" by Danica T. Harbaugh, pages 827, 828, 829, 833-838.

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