Natural populations

This species has roots that are partially parasitic on a range of other plants and is widespread across much of dryland southern Australia [1,2,3]. It extends from coastal south west Western Australia, across southern Northern Territory, most of South Australia, to New South Wales and south western Queensland. Santalum acuminatum is usually a small tree to 5 m tall. It is found in a wide range of habitats, often as isolated trees.

Flowering and seeds

Flowering in this species starts in late autumn but has been recorded in October to March along the coast in south west Western Australia [3]; fruits ripen during late winter and spring and soon drop. There are about 20* viable seeds per 10 grams; seeds start to germinate in about 10 days if grown at 20°C with no pretreatment required [4].

Cultivation and uses

Santalum acuminatum is a slow growing, fire-sensitive species adapted to semi-arid and arid conditions. Its root system is parasitic and dependent on the roots of a host plant to establish [1]. The outer fleshy layer of the fruit is used to make jams and conserves, sauces and various confectionary products, while the hard kernel is also edible and has a high protein, vitamin C and oil content [1]. Plantations to produce commercial quantities of fruit from this species have recently been established [5]. The foliage of this species is apparently 'relished' and heavily grazed by stock [2] and it is considered a useful amentity plant [1].

Key descriptors:
Climate parameters
Mean annual rainfall: 150-750 mm
Rainfall distribution pattern: summer, uniform or winter
Mean annual temperature: 13-28 °C
Mean max. temperature of the hottest month: 28-37 °C
Mean min. temperature of the coldest month: 1-9 °CFrosts (approx. no. per year): frost free or more or less frost free or up to 20
Frost intensity: light to moderate (0 to -5°C)
Altitude: 10-770 metres
Tolerance of extremes in climate
Drought: known to be moderately drought tolerant or known to be tolerant of protracted droughts
Frost: tolerates frosts in the 0° to -5°C range
Wind: tolerates salt-laden coastal winds
Soil factors
Texture: clay loam, light to medium clay (35-50% clay), loam, sandy loam, sandy clay loam or sand
Soil pH reaction: acidic (less than 6.5), neutral (6.5-7.5) or alkaline (greater than 7.5)
Soil depth: skeletal to shallow (less than 30 cm) or moderate to deep (30-100 cm or greater)
Drainage: well-drained
Salinity: slightly to moderately saline
Tolerance of adverse soils
Extremes in pH: acidity or alkalinity
Extremes in texture: sand
Salinity: high (9-16 dS m-1), moderate (-8 dS m-1) or slight (2-4 dS m-1)
Soil waterlogging tolerance: nil - sensitive to waterlogged soils
Biological traits under cultivation
Habit: evergreen shrub or small tree less than 5 m tall
Longevity: moderate to long lived (>15 years)
Growth rate: slow
Root system: parasitic - requires host to establish
Windbreak potential: tolerates salty coastal winds
Shade tolerance: grows best in full sunlight
Wood density: mod. to high (greater than 600 kg/cubic metre)
Carbon sequestration potential: low
Potential farm use: good ornamental attributes or foliage has stock fodder potential
Specialty products: fruits or foliage have medicinal value, fruits used in jams, sauces, confectionaries etc.
Traditional Aboriginal uses: seeds/fruits eaten
Urban use: good as an ornamental or amenity plant
Potentially undesirable attributes
Susceptibility to disease or predation: susceptible to root fungi (eg, Phytophthora, Armillaria)
Foliage: highly susceptible to browsing by animals
Weediness: high potential based on its biology


[1] Cunningham GM, Mulham WE, Milthorpe PL, Leigh JH (1992) Plants of Western New South Wales, Inkata Press.

[2] Mitchell AA, Willcox DG (1994) Arid Shrubland Plants of Western Australia. 2nd edition, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

[3] Rippey E, Rowland B (2004) Coastal Plants Perth and the South-west Region. University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

[4] Gunn BV (2001) Australian Tree Seed Centre Operations Manual. Internal Publication, CSIRO Australian Tree Seed Centre, ACT. [Online at  Accessed March 2008]

[5] CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems website:

Internet links

Australian National Botanic Gardens:

Botanic Gardens Trust:

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems:

eFloraSA Electronic Flora of South Australia:

FloraBase Western Australian Herbarium:

PlantNET National Herbarium of New South Wales: 

Primary Industries and Resources South Australia Fact Sheet: