Santalum paniculatum var. pilgeri

leaf Main Plant Information






  • pilgeri

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

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

Hawaiian Names

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

Common Names

  • Mountain sandalwood
  • Pilger's sandalwood
  • Sandalwood


  • Santalum pilgeri

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Dwarf, Less than 15
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
  • Tree, Large, Greater than 50

Mature Size, Width

10 to over 30 foot canopy. The canopy diameter is approximately half the height of the tree. [1]

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

In an urban environment this ʻiliahi (S. paniculatum) will grow as a shrub or tree from 10 to 33 feet. In the landscape under optimal conditions,ʻiliahi can grow 2 1/2 feet per year, although usually slower. [1]

It is important to plant out our native sandalwoods with host plants, such as ʻaʻaliʻi, koa, koaiʻa, lama, alaheʻe, ʻōhiʻa, māmaki, ʻūlei, koʻokoʻolau, or naio. It has been suggested to use a number of different species as hosts to ensure that ʻiliahi will be provided with enough nutrients and water from a variety of sources. Too, ʻiliahi are not choosy about host plants. The health of ʻiliahi is tied to the health of the neighboring plants.

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. [1]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • Cream
  • Greenish-White
  • Orange
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Santalum paniculatum is one of the "white-fowered" ʻiliahi along with ʻiliahialoʻe or Coastal sandalwood (S. ellipticum) and ʻiliahi or Involute sandalwood (S. involutum). [9]

The flowers of this species are greenish tinged with brown, orange, or salmon after opening and produce a sweet fragrance.

Blooming Period

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

The blooming period varies throughout the spring, summer and fall months. [1]

The fruits (drupes) are purple to black.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Upper side of leaves have a green glossy surface. Lower sides are often dull or pale and usually different colors, occasionally yellowish orange to bluish or olive green.

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.

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

Moderately dry to wet conditions.

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. [1]


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Organic


Will not tolerate waterlogging of two weeks or more without good drainage. [1]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Additional Habitat Information

This species (S. paniculatum) is found in scattered dry woodland on lava or cinder cones to higher elevation wet forest or secondary ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros) forest from about 1475 to over 8300 feet.

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.

Currently there are six endemic species in the Hawaiian Archipelago.[9]


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

The specific epithet paniculatum is derived from the Latin paniculatus, a botanical description for a branced-racemose or an inflorescence of a plant.

The varietal name pileri is named for Robert Knuds Friedrich Pilger (1876-1953), German agrostologist, traveller, botanical explorer, plant collector, and Director at Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens.

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. [3]

ʻIliahi can and do hybridize with the East Indian, or white, sandalwood (Santalum album), an introduced species also grown in the Hawaiian Islands. [2]

Santalum paniculatum is closely related to S. ellipticum.

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 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 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 sandalwood extensively, it was still valued.


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. [8]


The leaves were used as a shampoo for dandruff and head lice; and a drink from powdered material for venereal diseases of men and women [4] or "for sores of long duration." [2,3]


The wood was sometimes used to make ʻūkēkē or musical bow. [3]

Other Uses:

Sometimes used as firewood. [3]

Modern Use

In the latter part of the 20th century S. paniculatum wood was exported form western Hualālai (Kona District, Hawaiʻi) to Asia. [1]

Currently there is still contriversal some logging being done with this species. [10]

At least one source on Hawaiʻi Island has produced an essential oil from this species (S. paniculatum) for commercial sale.

Additional References

[1] "Traditional Trees of the Pacific Islands" by Craig R. Elevitch, pages 698, 699, 703, 710, 712.

[2] [Accessed on 11/10/08]

[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.


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

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

[7] "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.

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

[9] "Taxonomic Revsion of the Endangered Hawaiian Red-Flowered Sandalwoods (Santalum) and Discovery of an Ancient Hybrid Species" by Danica T. Harbaugh, pages 827, 829, 830, 831, 833-838.

[10] "Environment Hawaiʻi, Volume 21, Number 4, October 2010" pages 1, 7-10.

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