Santalum pyrularium

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

  • Kauaʻi forest sandalwood
  • Kauaʻi sandalwood
  • Sandalwood


  • Santalum freycinetianum var. pyrularim
  • Santalum majus
  • Santalum pyrularium var. sphaerolithos

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, Dwarf, Less than 15
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Mature Size, Width

Typically with a 10-20+ foot canopy width with a maximum of a 30 ft. or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Hedges
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

These beautiful trees entwined with an ugly past certainly deserve to grace our gardens and landscapes. ʻIliahi may not always be the easiest of native plants to germinate from seeds, but once they reach outplanting stage they require very little attention. 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.

Like other ʻiliahi, this species does best planted out to a permanent site when young rather than remaining in a pot. [Michael DeMotta, National Tropical Botanical Garden]

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers
  • Wood

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • Purple
  • Red

Additional Flower Color Information

Flower color ranges from cream to purple throughout, with greenish-purple interior, or greenish-white turning red with age. [11]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

The leaves of this species do not appear wilted as with some others, such as S. freycinetianum.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

leaf Growth Requirements

Water Requirements

No data available.

Light Conditions

No data available.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 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)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Santalum pyrularium is endemic to the island of Kauaʻi in mesic to wet forests and range from about 820 to over 3,100 feet in elevation.

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.

Santalum pyrularium was recently given a species rank. It was formerly known as Santalum freycinetianum var. pyrularium. [11]

Currently there are six endemic species in the Hawaiian Archipelago. [11]


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

The specific epithet pyrularium is derived from the Latin pyrularia, pear-shaped, referring to the pear (Pyrus spp.) shaped fruits of this plant.

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]

ʻIliahi can and do hybridize with the East Indian, or white, sandalwood (Santalum album), an introduced species also grown in Hawaiʻi. [1]

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.


The oils in the yellowish-brown fragrant heartwood and bark of ʻiliahialoʻe was pounded to scent the smell of new kapa (tapa), and when added with coconut oil the would water proof the material. [1,3,6]


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. [10]


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 [8] or "for sores of long duration." [1,6]


The wood was sometimes used to make ʻūkēkē or musical bow. [6]

Other Uses:

Sometimes it was used as firewood. [6]

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. [9]

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] [accessed 8/21/07]

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

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

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

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