Zitan Wood (Pterocarpus santalinus): Uses, Properties, Pros and Cons

Pterocarpus santalinus only grows in the South Indian Eastern Ghats. It is also called zitan wood or red Sandalwood.

The dark red wood from this tree is highly valued. Most people don’t think that the wood smells. The tree differs from the fragrant Santalum sandalwood trees that grow in southern India.

It is one of 33 species called “suitable redwood timber,” which is used to make high-quality Chinese furniture in the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Because of this, wood is very valuable.

Only a small area in southern India is home to Pterocarpus santalinus. In the past, too much wood, dyes, and medicines were taken from it.

China has always valued this wood, but during the Qing Dynasty, it was especially important. It was first called “zitan” in Chinese by western writers like Gustav Ecke, who brought traditional Chinese hardwood furniture to the west.

You can see a beautiful red sandalwood chair in Beijing’s Hall of Supreme Harmony of China’s Forbidden City. The rulers of the Qing Dynasty once used it.

Zitan is a very dense wood. Because it is so heavy, it won’t float in water. It looks like it could be either dark purple or dark red.

Its color gets darker as it ages, giving the wood a unique dark color. Zitan is rarely painted because it already has a beautiful color. Instead, it is polished or finished with clear lacquer.

Zitan is sold under other names

Common Names: Zitan, Red Sandalwood, red saunders, Red Sanders Rakta Chandana, Yerra Chandanam, Chenchandanam, red Sandalwood, and saunders wood.


Zitan is imported and used almost exclusively in China, where it sells for very high prices. The demand for Zitan puts it at a different price than even the most expensive hardwoods worldwide.

Even though there are strict rules about trading, the wood is still brought into China illegally. Buyers should be aware of fake Zitan, which looks like another species of Pterocarpus or Dalbergia.

China pays a lot of money for red Sandalwood, which makes it a good market for smugglers in India.

Since it is against the law in India to export Sandalwood, there is a growing black market for it, and people who try to sneak it into China are caught yearly.

Habitat and Geographical Distribution

Peninsular India and Sri Lanka are both home to the Pterocarpus species. It grows in large groups in tropical dry deciduous forests near the southeastern Ghats.

Red Sandalwood is a tree widely distributed in tropical regions, particularly India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and China.

This plant is found exclusively in a well-defined forest tract of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. Still, it is also found in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong, and Guangxi and on the island of Hainan, where it is called Zitan.

Pterocarpus santalinus is a tree that grows in tropical areas with a clear dry season. It grows between 150 and 1,000 meters above sea level.

It does best in places where the average annual temperature is between 26°C and 32°C, but it can grow in temperatures from 7°C to 46°C. If the temperature drops below 0°c, it will die. It likes to have an average of 1,000 to 1,900 mm of rain a year, but it can survive with 875 to 2,800 mm.


The IUCN put Pterocarpus santalinus on its list of Endangered species because its wood was being overused in South India. However, in 2018, it was changed to Near Threatened because it is unclear how much of this loss happened.

It is also on the CITES appendix II list, meaning you need a certificate to export it. This certificate should only be given if the trade won’t hurt the species’ chances of survival.

Is Zitan hard or softwood            

Wood type: hardwood.

Zitan is a very dense wood that sinks when it gets wet. It comes from the rosewood family and is in the genus Pterocarpus in terms of its plants.

The wood is dark purple to dark red, and its fibers have deep red pigments used to make dyes since ancient times.

Zitan Wood identification

The wood is very hard and has a specific gravity of 1.109. It is dark red.

The leaves have a petiole and are opposite each other. They have only one leaf when they are seedlings, but later they get three or sometimes five leaves.

The species has yellow flowers packed together in racemes that are either simple or have few branches. After new leaves grow, flowers bloom from February to April. have a clear, pleasant smell when they are being worked.

Zitan wood Color and appearance

Heartwood is dark orange to deep reddish purple, and it often has darker streaks running through it.

Over time, colors tend to get much darker, to the point where they look almost black. Overall, it looks the same color as Bois de Rose.

The thin, pale-white sapwood is easy to tell apart from the wider, darker heartwood. The wood grain is sometimes wavy and knotted.


There are only a few yellow flowers on simple or sparsely-branched racemes. The pedicels are about 5 mm long, and the calyx is about 5–6 mm long, with tiny, deltoidal teeth.


Fruits (pods) are obliquely round, with a diameter of 3.8–5 cm when the wing is included. The base is narrowed into a short, concavely curved stipe about 8 mm long and woolly. The seeds are smooth, reddish-brown, leathery, and about 1 to 1.5 cm long.


Leaves are usually 10–18 cm long and have three leaflets, but sometimes four or five leaflets are 3.8–7.6 cm long.

Broadly ovate orbicular, coriaceous, with an obtuse, slightly emarginate tip. The underside of the leaf is pale and covered with fine grey hairs.

Zitan wood bark

Bark blackish-brown, deeply cut into rectangular plates, yielding a deep red latex when cut.

Zitan wood Pros and cons         

Are you considering whether or not Zitan wood is the best option for you? The demand for this hardwood was relatively low because there was a shortage of other supplies. Utilizing this wood comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

Strength and Durability

Zitan is heavy and doesn’t float in water, but I wouldn’t recommend putting the piece in water to see if it sinks. Zitan gives off a sticky substance that turns black. If you don’t polish Zitan for a long time, the black resin will build up to the point where it looks like black lacquer.

Allergies and toxicity

Even though severe reactions are rare, Zitan has been said to be an irritant. The most common side effects are eye irritation and vomiting.


Easy to work with both hand and machine tools.

Zitan wood uses

In Japan, this plant’s wood is used to make statues, musical instruments like the shamisen and koto, and seals called Hankos. In Buddhism, this plant is seen as a sign of holiness. Because of this, it is used to make statues, make incense, and burn people.

This plant can also be used to get different substances and products. Heartwood can be used to make a dye that is used in light microscopy, in drug preparations, in the food, leather, and textile industries, and as a dye for textiles.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, this wood was a rarity in China; the use of Red Sandalwood furniture, or Zitan as they call it there, was exclusively reserved for the imperial household of the Qing dynasty.

Zitan wood for furniture

Zitan trees grow very slowly, so there has never been a lot of wood from them.

Zitan wood is durable and strong, beautifully colored, and often beautifully black and reddish flamed, and this wood is a popular luxury wood, especially for furniture.

Zitan furniture made in the past is hard to find, and when it does come up for sale, it usually goes for a very high price, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, for rare pieces.

The Ming and Qing dynasties used Zitan for furniture more than at any other time. During that time, the demand grew so much that even young trees were cut down to make furniture, almost ending the zitan tree.

Zitan wood for carving

The wood is dark purple to dark red, and its fibers have deep red pigments used to make dyes since ancient times.

Because the wood grain is so fine, it is great for carving intricate designs.

Zitan wood Related species

Zitan wood has been used for thousands of years for various purposes and is still in use today.

Below, you can learn about these beautiful, strong, and expensive wood varieties and the latest news and updates about Zitan wood-related species.

Amboyna (Pterocarpus indicus)

Amboyna comes from the Indonesian island of Ambon, where a lot of the carved wood is exported. Most people call it Narra (Pterocarpus indicus), but Burma Padauk burl sections are also sold under this Name. The wood is dense and hard, and it gets a beautiful finish. It smells good, like baked goods.

Andaman Padauk (Pterocarpus Dalbergioides)

One of the most important kinds of wood on the Andaman Islands comes from the Pterocarpus Dalbergioides tree. It is a street tree and a plant used for decoration in India and Africa.

Traditions from the Ming and Qing dynasties say that wood is used to make high-quality Chinese furniture.

Burma Padauk (Pterocarpus macrocarpus)

Pterocarpus macrocarpus is a big tree that loses its leaves. It usually grows between 17 and 23 meters tall but can sometimes grow to 30 meters.

When the tree is grown in the open, it usually has a short trunk and a crown that spreads out. This is one of the most important types of wood in Southeast Asia, where a lot of it is exported yearly.

It is one of the three main species used to make high-quality Chinese furniture from Hongmu (redwood) wood.

Muninga (Pterocarpus angolensis)

Muninga (Pterocarpus angolensis) belongs to the Papilionaceae, a subfamily of legumes. Muninga is related to Pacific gold-colored padauk (P.indicus) and Central African coral padauks.

Wood can be dried easily and without cracks and can be worked with all tools without difficulty.

Padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii)

Pterocarpus Soyauxii is an evergreen or briefly deciduous tree with a crown that looks like a dome and is open in the middle.

The valuable heartwood is mostly exported from Cameroon and Gabon. It is mostly used as wood, but it was also used as a dye in the past.

Low damping of vibrations means that wood has a high resonant quality. In the past, large telegraph slit drums and war drums were made from wood.