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How to grow the endangered sandalwood

In an effort to save sandalwood from extinction due to rampant logging and uprooting for exportation, Kenya’s forestry agency has given out guidelines for growth of the tree.

Sandalwood, whose oil is extracted for cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, has remained endangered even with a State and international ban on its export.

For the limited international trade in the tree, it is done under strict regulations. It is, however, illegal to cut,uproot or export sandalwood in Kenya.

The Director of Kenya Forestry Research Institute Ben Chikamai notes that the guidelines would mainstream the growing of sandalwood for private and public actors.

“Protection of natural populations will be achieved by setting up a domestication programme where cultivation and harvesting of species will ease pressure on natural populations while providing income to growers,” he says.

The ‘golden’ tree grows at altitudes of between 900m and 2250m above sea level.

Rainfall has be between 600mm and 1600mm per annum; it can also do well in drier areas such as Taita-Taveta and Makueni counties.

Sandalwood, whose scientific name is Osyris lanceolata, can be propagated by cuttings, seeds, and layering. Seeds and layering are the most preferred for large scale production.

Cuttings need highly specialised attention in nurseries, where infections, more-so fungi can be controlled.

Seed propagation

Pick seeds from healthy fast growing individual trees. A seeds source should have at least 20 trees. this increases chances of healthy crop since given that the tree is dioecious-has separate male and female trees.

A mature sandalwood seed has a white firm endosperm as oppose to the milky content in an immature one.

Seed extraction from fruits and processing should be done within 48 hours. Processing involves cleaning, sorting, depulping, floatation, and drying. Proper treatment and storage help prevent fungal infection.

Seeds are grown in greenhouses with sand and fertile soils at temperatures of between 25 degrees Celsius and 40 degrees Celsius.

Germination starts after about 21 days and may extend to 60 days. 

Seedlings are pricked after four months, when they have six to eight leaves. They will be placed in a nursery until they are 15 months old for transfer to the field. This is done so to increase survival of this fragile tree.

Air-layering propagation

Air-layering or marcotting involves using a vegetative propagation materials.

Marcotting involves inducing a root to develop roots on branch ‘stem’, with a moist medium. 

When the roots are well developed in the wrapped up part containing soil, the new stem is detached and planted separately. High hygiene should be practiced during the transfer to greenhouse for hardening before field planting.


In general, sandalwood seedlings-from marcotting, cutting or seeds- should be transferred from the greenhouse to open nursery for acclimatisation before moving them to the seedbed. 

Only healthy seedlings measuring between 60cm and 90cm should be planted-to increase survival.

Water logged and frosted areas are unfriendly to sandalwood.

Plough the field at least one week before the onset of the rains.

Plant at a spacing of 3.5m by 3.5m in semi arid and 2.5 by 2.5 for fairly rainy regions. Holes should be 30cm deep.

They can also be planted in homes as ornamental trees.

Sandalwood fields should fenced because they can be damaged by browsers.


Harvesting is done after 15 to 20 years, although formal growing is yet to be done in Kenya. The tree regenerates profusely after cutting, therefore, initial costs cannot be uncured.

The shrub of the multi-stemmed plant can reach six metres high. The fruits are are round and seeds are covered by fleshy pulp when ripe.

In the wild, it is  semi-parasitic plant,whose roots attach to host plants, where they can absorb nutrients.

Sandalwood is available in several species.

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