The Cropwatch Series


No: 3


Blue Cypress oil

[Callitris intratropica Benth. et Hook f.]



© Tony Burfield May 2004




In keeping with our follow up investigations on failed get-rich-quick plantation schemes in Australia, I am thankful to Jim Gobert for alerting me to another story, which has, allegedly, lost investors millions. Blue cypress essential oil is produced by a special process from the heartwood, wood, and bark of the North Cypress Pine - a member of the Southern Conifer group of the Cupressaceae family, which grows to 45m. and has fragrant wood. It is one of a number of native cypress trees which grow in the aboriginal lands of Australia (e.g. the northerly Bathurst and Melville Islands), but its geographic isolation has prevented its commercial exploitation for a considerable time. Aboriginal uses of the resin from Callitris intratropica include employment as glue and for contraceptive uses (Bowman & Harris 1995). It was widely promoted in the essential oils and aromatherapy professions a decade past. It can be steam distilled from the heartwood/wood/bark, but a solvent extracted “oil” is also available, appearing as a deep blue-black, highly coloured­ mobile liquid, where much was previously made of its azulene-like properties.


However Cropwatch’s opinion is that it is hard to see why the oil should be particularly attractive to perfumers. Burfield (2000) describes the oil as follows: “In colder weather the oil may become semi-, or almost completely, solid (presumably due to the guaiol content). The odour is overwhelmingly woody, and slightly earthy, the top-note being multi-faceted, with the following aspects being discernable: there is a medicinal almost ylang-like note, a minor pine-like quality, a touch of spiciness and a pineapple-like fruitiness. After a few minutes the odour profile becomes piney-resinous, loosing some dryness and becoming sweeter. The dry-out is woody-earthy and celery-like.” It isn’t regarded by the author as particularly interesting perfumery material, but it may have a certain novelty ingredient status.

The composition of the oil is summarized again by Burfield (2000): “The oil contains sesquiterpenes such as b-elemene and d-selinene and sesquiterpene alcohols such as guaiol (26%) and b-eudesmol (6.3%). The blue colouring may be ascribed, at least in part, to the presence of guaiazulene (1.6%) although other complex structures with a resemblance to the azulene moiety are present.


In a (somewhat strange) attempt to compare the oil with other commercial oils, some attention has been drawn to an alleged similarity with another guaiol containing oil: guaiacwood oil, although the sweetness of guaiacwood oil is not particularly mirrored in this oil. However the oil has been ‘image marketed’ in the cosmetics trade on the fact that it is the only wood oil containing guaiazulene which has alleged anti-bacterial properties (although a more cost-effective and more ecologically sound plant source of guaiazulene might be German chamomile oil). Bowles  (2000) previously set out the oil’s history & chemistry, as well as outlining the uses of the oil, and its anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant and anti-viral effects. The author’s experience of the oil has been less upbeat, centering around poor keeping quality and unacceptable batch to batch variability.

Legal wrangles

The Age, an Australian newspaper, carried a story (“Bitter Blue”) on April 21, 2004, described a legal wrangle over patents and allegations of deception. The battle is described as being between Mike Collins who claims to have discovered the oil first, and Bill McGilvray, well known essential oil producer, and former president of the Australian Tea-Tree Industry Association. The article describes a decision taken by the Delegate of the Commissioner of Patents in June 2002, ruling that McGilvray should loose the rights to log the trees on Aboriginal and on Crown land for allegedly breaching contracts and failing to pay royalties according to the Government and spokesmen of the Tiwi aboriginal people. It is further reported in the article that seven South African investors lost $100,000 in the wrangle. You can read the full story at  


Bowles J. (2000) Simply Essential. Aug 2000.

Bowman D.M.J.S. & Harris S. “Conifers of Australia’s dry forests and open woodlands. In: Ecology of the Southern Conifers pp252-270 eds. Enright NJ & Hill RS. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.

Burfield T (2000) Natural Aromatic Materials – Odours & Orgins pub AIA Tampa.

Sandalwood Update.

It has been puzzling many of us exactly what is going on with Sandalwood oil EI – suspicious as ever, some of us old hands suspect that some batches of oil are being adulterated in new ways which we haven’t yet fathomed!

Sandalwood Oil East African Osyris lanceolata Hochst. & Steud.

No – not the Sandalwood East African material deriving from Tanzanian Osyris tenuifolia Engl. (“bastard sandalwood”) which has lanceol as its principle component! It was somewhat surprising for us to learn at this point that there is a new kid on the block in the form of Sandalwood oil East African from Osyris lanceolata. The scented wood from this 8-10m. tree native to S. Africa, makes an interesting oil, having an initial strong sickly sweet note which rapidly gives way to a metallic-rubbery-woody note slightly reminding of Cedarwood. The profile lacks the sensuality of E.I. Sandalwood oil. The dry-own is a smooth somewhat sweet creamy woody note, much less crude and more pleasant than the top note and more similar to E.I. Sandalwood, but as noted for the top note, still lacking the sensual quality of E.I. Sandalwood oil. Its highish concentration of sanatols (probably 32% max) and high santalyl acetate content (approx 35% typical) may make it seem an attractive proposition to some.

Apparently 150 tons of logs of Osyris lanceolata per month are being imported into India by a company in Mumbai (which claims to be the largest importer) – and who’s literature states sales of oils, chips, powder etc. are made into chewing tobaccos, attars, perfumery and the agarbatti/joss-stick industries. The company admits also to producing between 750-800 Kg of East African sandalwood oil per month (Banker 2004). However the sustainability of this practice is far from clear - reports of the threatened status of Osyris lanceolata in the Eastern Arc mountains of Tanzania can be viewed at Further, a report on oil on the resource status of Osyris lanceolata in Tanzania and oil quality variation amongst endemic trees populations by Mwang'ingo, P.L. et al.can be viewed at From these reports the situation would seem to show cause for concern.

Ref: Banker R (2004) Personal communication to author.

Sandalwood oil New Caledonian Santalum austrocaledonicum Viell. var. austrocaledonicum.

Now being promoted and sold by several essential oil companies, it remains to be seen how long this source, previously reported to be threatened, will last. So what do we know?

We know that sandalwood trees (Santalum austrocaledonicum) which grow from 5-12m. and may reach 30-45 cm. in girth, are widespread on the Isle of Pines and in the Loyalty islands around Noumea and to the north of the main island. On Grande Tierre it only occurs in a few restricted areas (SPRIG 2000). We also know from the same source that three varieties are distinguished S. austrocaledonicum var. austrocaledonicum, S. austrocaledonicum var. pilosulum, S. austrocaledonicum var. minutum, and that morphological and oil content differences occur between S. austrocaledonicum var. austrocaledonicum trees on Loyalty Island and “the Ile des Pines” provenance. We also know that subspecies of Santalum species might show some variations sesquiterpenoid composition, however S. austrocaledonicum oils from several geographic locations are known to be able to pass the ISO 3518 criteria for Sandalwood oils, although the optical rotation criteria may be a stumbling block. 

New Caledonia was reported as having 360,000 hectares of forest land but only 10,000 under cultivation ref: As the European Forestry Institute points out at “In general, current timber export markets in Asia and New Caledonia do not require information on the environmental standards and impacts of logging operations”. This is important because energy intensive steam distillation of small charges (250-300Kg) of sandalwood chippings or shavings to produce the sandalwood crude oil (this crude grade is being sold into aromatherapy), take up to 2 days to complete and thereby generate relatively large amounts of carbon emissions per kilo of oil, contributing to the overall negative ecological impact of the operation. As several minor Pacific Islands are currently being submerged through the effects global warming, this is a sensitive issue. Cropwatch has been making representation to Australian entrepreneurs in the Pacific connected with Sandalwood exploitation suggesting that the implementation of solar distillation rather than importing diesel to generate steam would perhaps help reduce this negative impact, however it is to be remembered that Australia is not a signatory to the Kyoto protocol and has little internal pressure to act in a deep green ecological manner. It is also to be remembered that Oceana itself causes a huge carbon emission loading to the world atmosphere which can only be added to by diesel or wood-fired distillation processes.

Cherrier (1993) reported on the difficulties of sandalwood cultivation in New Caledonia noting heartwood development was proportional to proper development (fast growing trees producing less heartwood). On the narrower subject of sustainability, Ehrhart (1997) presented a fairly optimistic report on the status of known consistent sandalwood stocks in New Caledonia (in contrast to the depleted situation in many/most other South Pacific locations), and makes the point that surveyed sustainable logging management should be possible in these circumstances (yearly quotas have been set at 55 to 60 tons of wood). However, apart from illegal cropping & fire damage, the danger is that of over-exploitation – the bio-resources of New Caledonia to supply Sandalwood oil are unlikely to be able to supply more than a few percent (i.e. probably no more than 2 tons max.) of the total Sandalwood oil demand – which will be severely tested now that leading French aroma houses are currently offering oil from this origin. Further, as indicated above, whilst the emphasis in the sales propaganda by Sandalwood oil salesmen has largely centered on examining tree sustainability, the negative aspects concerning the total environmental impact of the operation can easily be overlooked. 

Santalum album plantations Australia

At the time of going to press, a report about the lack of any impact assessment study ever being carried out, and a statement concerning economic failure of investment schemes for S. album plantations have had to be held over for a future issue. Meanwhile mailed comments on the status of Santalum spp. in Australia covered in Cropwatch 2 have been received by the author from two senior Australian Forestry officials, who have unfortunately declined permission to have their observations reproduced here.  

 Tasmania: destruction of the forest eco-system.

Its hard to miss the press coverage on this lately, with The Guardian reporting that concerns about Australian forests are an election issue, and the singer Chrissie Hynde supporting the boycott of Tasmania as a holiday destination etc. by People for the Ethnic Treatment of Animals (Peta). Meanwhile loggers seem to prove once again prove that whatever the country concerned, they are above the law and cannot be stopped. Richard Flannagan (Guardian April 21, 2004 p16) wrote an impassioned article about the setting alight of Tasmanian rainforest which is felled before being napalmed, much of the wood being sold as unprocessed wood chips. Magnificent Eucalyptus regnans trees of enormous stature and great age are gone forever, and pictures of such a cleared area of the Styx Valley in Tasmania have previously featured in an earlier Guardian feature by David Fickling (Guardian March 22, 2004). Flannagan also describes the close relationship that Tasmanian politicians enjoy with Gunns Ltd., the largest logging company in Australia and how the population is cowed – to question this action is to risk ostracisation or unemployment. Fickling mentions in more detail that 2 board members of Gunns were criticised in an official bribery inquiry in 1989, and the fact that Tasmania’s acting premier, Paul Lennon visited Scandinavian pulp mills with Gunns chief executive, John Gray. Perhaps Cropwatch is starting to understand why we meet a brick wall so many we try to communicate with in that felled continent. Meanwhile comprehensive information on the unsustainable activities of Gunns Ltd. can be viewed on the Wilderness Societies website at

 GM non-food crops.

A very well researched report by GeneWatch's director Dr. Susan Mayer at identifies some research on GM crops intended for non-food use: grasses, flowers, trees, and crops such as cotton used for fibre production. Tree species referred to include Betula pendula, Eucalyptus camuldensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Liquidamber spp. etc., and details of trials being carried out in Canada on larches and black spruce figure amongst much other identified work. Mayer notes that there are no GM trees available commercially as such, but work has been carried out to transfer insect resistance, and herbicide tolerance. In the flowers section of the report you will find reference of "the molecular breeder" Florigene (offices in Australia & Netherlands) and its’ interests in the cut flower industry – giving relevant information on patents for roses, carnations, chrysanthemums. Mayer also disturbingly reports on retailed mauve & violet GM carnations with extended vase life sold by Florigene & Suntory in Australia & Japan respectively. 

In India, Ashok Sharma reported in February this year writing in the Financial Express ( that the Indian Minister for Agriculture Rajnath Singh inaugurated the Centre for Transgenic Plant Development in Jamia Hamdard in Delhi. Sharma reports that the centre has already developed a transgenic herb Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) which has a 40% higher content of esculin, which has skin protective properties. Other ongoing work at the centre includes studies on ACC oxidase to improve the shelf life of vegetables & fruits and chalcone synthase for flower colour modulation. Since several Indian aromatic raw material producers that the author has spoken to clearly understand that going down the GM route would jeopardise sales of these materials into EU markets, these developments in allied areas seem surprising. 

works Photo   Click here for printer friendly versionCaption


Cherrier, J-F, 1993. “Sandalwood in New Caledonia”. In F.H. McKinnell (ed) Sandalwood in the Pacific Region. Proceedings of a symposium held on 2 June 1991 at the XVII Pacific Science Congress, Honolulu, Hawaii. Canberra: ACIAR Proceedings No.49. pp19-22.

Ehrhart Y. (1997) “Descriptions of some Sandal Populations in the South West Pacific: Consequences etc.” ACIR Proc. 84, 105-112.

SPRIG (2000)

The information supplied in this bulletin is believed to be accurate, but views, comments, criticisms, corrections or additional material can be forwarded to for consideration in future communiqués in the Cropwatch series.

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