Sandalwood Tree

The sandalwood tree (Santalum fernan-dezianum) from the Juan Fernandez Islands (also known as the Robinson Crusoe Islands), located off the coast of Chile, was prized for its fragrant wood and aromatic oil. Commercial demand for sandalwood resulted in overhar-vesting and extinction less than 400 years after the discovery of this species.

Sandalwood has been used for religious, decorative, and medicinal purposes by many cultures since antiquity. The wood is used for carvings because it retains its pleasant fragrance for many years. The oil, which is extracted by steam distillation from the heartwood and roots of mature trees thirty years of age or more, is used in traditional medicine and ceremony. Although there are several species of Santalum, the type formerly known from the Juan Fernandez Islands was unique, and the characteristics of its wood and oil are still being studied nearly a century after its extinction (Baeza et al., 1999; Hoenesien et al., 1998).

The Juan Fernandez Islands form a small archipelago located off the coast of Chile. As is the case on many isolated islands, the flora and fauna of the Juan Fernandez Islands demonstrated a high degree of endemism. The earliest Western explorers to reach the islands, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, found lush forests full of aromatic woods and no human inhabitants. The islands became a way station where ships could be refitted and supplied. Since the only large mammals on the islands were seals, domestic goats and pigs were introduced to provide a ready source of meat for the visiting sailors. These intentionally introduced species, along with the rats that accompanied the new arrivals, were extremely destructive to the native flora and fauna. Having recognized the need to protect this fragile and unique ecosystem, the Chilean government designated this archipelago a national park in 1935; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has made it a World Biosphere Reserve.

For Santalum fernandezianum, however, protected status came too late. In 1908, Carl Skotts-berg, the premier naturalist authority on the Juan Fernandez Islands, wrote upon visiting the last remaining sandalwood tree: "It is a strange sensation to be at the death bed of a species; per

Scaphopods haps, and most probably, we are the last scientists to see it alive." When Skottsberg returned in 1918, the tree was dead ("Los apuntes," 2001).

—Julie Pomerantz

See also: Extinction, Direct Causes of Bibliography

C. Baeza, R. Rodríguez, M. Hoeneisen, and Tod Stuessy. 1999. "Anatomical Considerations of the Secondary Wood of Santalum Fernandezianum F. Phil (Santalaceae), an Extinct Species of the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile." Gayana Botánica 56:63-65; Hilton-Taylor, Craig. 2000. 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN Publications Service Unit; Hoenesien, M., et al. 1998. "Sesquiterpenes of the Essential Oil of Santalum fernandezianum E Phil. (Santalaceae), an Extinct Species of the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile." Bol. Soc. Chil. Quím. 43:505-508; "Los apuntes de Carl Skottsberg, (accessed April 30, 2001); Skottsberg, Carl. 1953. "The Vegetation of the Juan Fernandez Islands." Natural History of Juan Fernandez and Easter Island 2:793-960.

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