Amyris balsamifera

Common name: West Indian sandalwood

Other common names: Amyris wood, Balsam amyris, Balsam torchwood, Clack candlewood, Candlewood, Oilwood, Poison ash, West Indian rose, West Indian rosewood, White cantoo

Names in non-English languages: French Spanish


West Indian sandalwood is a tropical American tree valued for its fragrant wood, which yields an essential oil used by the perfume, cosmetic and fragrance industries.

Its natural range extends from southern Florida to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and from Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras in Central American to northern parts of South America, with a distribution mostly confined to dry limestone and scrub forests.

It is a slow-growing, small tree attaining heights of up to 12 m (39 ft ) in its natural habitat, with a slender trunk up to 30 cm (1 ft) in diameter. More typically, it is 5 to 10 m (16 to 32 ft) tall, with ascending branches forming a narrow, rounded or irregular crown. The bark is grey-brown and smooth.

The leaves consist of three to five dark glossy green, oval leaflets of variable size, ranging in length from 4 to 13 cm (1.6 to 5 in). When crushed, they release a strong, resinous aroma and remain on the tree throughout the year. Some leaf exchange occurs, however, during the transition from the dry to the rainy season.

The flowers are small, white and borne in branched clusters arising at the ends of the branches. They bloom on-and-off throughout the year, though they are most abundant in winter, coinciding with the dry season in its native range. Fertilised flowers develop into small, green egg-shaped fruit, 0.6 to 1.4 cm (0.2 to 0.6 in) long, becoming near black when ripe with a single seed inside.


The leaves, twigs and wood yield on steam distillation an essential oil known as 'Amyris oil'. Amyris oil is used as a fragrance component in cosmetics and perfumes and for aromatherapy. It also serves as a substitute for true Sandalwood oil from Santalum album.

Amyris oil is a pale- or brown-yellow viscous liquid with a slightly sweet, faintly woody cedar-like aroma. Oil yields range from 2 to 4%, depending on the proportion of new to old growth in the distilled material. Optimal oil yields and quality are achieved using mature wood that has dried for five to six months. And storage of the oil for two to three months further improves its aroma.

The wood is dense and heavy, in the 900 to 1100 kg per cubic meter (62 to 68 lb per cubic ft) range, and has high natural resistance to decay and wood-boring insects because of its resinous qualities. However, the logs come in small diameter lengths, making sawing them into lumber impractical. Besides, they are more valuable distilled for their essential oil.


Grows naturally in sub-humid to moderately humid tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 16 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 600 to 1400 mm and a dry season of 4 to 8 months.


West Indian sandalwood is not usually cultivated, with most material used to produce the oil sourced from wild trees. The soil in its natural habitat is free-draining and neutral to alkaline in nature, generally in the pH 7.0 to 8.5 range. It has good tolerance to limestone soils.

Problem features

None known.

Where it will grow



  • Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston

  • Arctander, S. 1960, Perfume and flavor materials of natural origin, Elizabeth, New Jersey

  • Burdock, G.A. 2010, Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, 6th ed, CRC Press: Boca Raton, Florida

  • Cassidy, F. G. & Le Page, R. B. 1980, Dictionary of Jamaican English, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridgeshire

  • Fawcett, W. 1891, Economic plants, An index to economic products of the vegetable kingdom in Jamaica, Jamaica Government Printing Establishment, Kingston

  • Felger, R. S. & Johnson, M. B. & Wilson, M. F. 2001, The trees of Sonora, Mexico, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York

  • Groom, N. 1997, The new perfume handbook, 2nd ed., Blackie Academic & Professional, London

  • Guenther, E. & Althausen, D. 1948 to 1952, The essential oils (6 volumes), Van Nostrand Publishing, New York

  • Little, E. L. 1974, Trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Vol. 2, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.

  • Record, S. J. & Hess, R. W., 1972, Timbers of the New World, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut & Arno Press, New York

  • Roecklein, J. C & Leung, P.S. 1987, A Profile of economic plants, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, New Jersey

  • Standley, P. C. 1920, Trees and shrubs of Mexico, Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington D.C.

Articles, Journals, Reports and Working Papers

  • Douglas M. & Heyes J. & Smallfield B. 2005, Herbs, Spices and Essential Oils Post-Harvest Operations in Developing Countries, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome

© All rights reserved Iplantz 2021