The Cropwatch Files

The agarwood Files


Alternative Names




Copyright © Tony Burfield and Kendra Kirkham




Agarwood (gaharu, gahuru) and derived commodities thereof are known by a confusing variety of other names: it is probably the original Lignum-aloes mentioned in the Bible (Proverbs 7:17, Psalms 45:8, Song of Solomon 4:14, John 19: 39), although this is disputed. Agarwood qualities (from A. malaccensis unless indicated) are also variously named agar (Burma, Assam), aloeswood (En.), bois d’aigle (Fr.), columnback (Fr.), calambac (Fr.), calambour (Fr.), eaglewood (En.), ki karas (Sudan), karas (Malaysia), lignum rhodium, mengkaras (Sumatra), oud, tengkaras (Malaysia), xylaloes etc. etc.

In Cambodia the names chan krassna & klampeok are used (for Aquliaria crassna), in E. Thailand kritsaana, whilst ky nam is used in Vietnam (again for A. crassna). In Sanskrit: agaru, rajarah, kilijiya and jishvarupa. In Hindi: agar. In Tamil: agaru, krishnagaru. In  Bengali: agaru. In Malayalam: kayagharu. In Telegu: krishnagharu. In Papua gaharu-buaya is associated with Aetoxylon sympetalum. Gaharu sirsak (W. Papua) is associated with Wikstroemia polyantha and gaharu cengkeh (W. Papua) with Wikstroemia tenuiramis.  Differences in the spelling of these names can give further variations. Cropwatch will use gaharu by default, although individual workers may not use this term.


Gaharu is a scented product obtained from a pathological condition of the wood of standing trees of certain Aquilaria species (Fam. Thymelaeaceae), and exceptionally, perhaps, of Aquilaria trees buried underneath the ground for considerable periods. The condition is probably brought on by fungal infection, or by external wounding (or by both) – see Microbiology section  below. Agarwood is traded in the form of wood chips, powder/dust, oil or extracts for perfumery or incense use; It has been estimated that 2000 tons/annum of gaharu is traded through Singapore (Yamada 1995). Gaharu is also obtained via species from other related genera of the Thymelaeaceae e.g. Gyrinops, Gonystylus, Aetoxylon, Phaleria and maybe Enkleia and Wikstroemia etc.

Twenty four Aquilaria ssp. (plus A. malaccensis makes 25), and six Gyrinops ssp. (plus G. wala makes seven) are listed in Annex 1 of CITES 2004 (Amendments to Appendices I & II), Aquilaria ssp. being distributed throughout India, SE Asia & through to China, with at least six species occurring in Indonesia. The trees have adapted to growing in various types of habitat from well drained rocky places, to calcareous soils and swampland, being found at 0-850m., and exceptionally to 1000m. Not every Aquilaria tree contains gaharu – perhaps 10% in mature stands - and those expert enough to assertain from exernal characteristics whether or not a tree harbours the resin are few and far between (see Sadgopal & Varma 1952; Gibson 1977), thus explaining why trees are being indiscriminately felled to the point of extinction in many areas. Whilst the light coloured unscented wood has been used in Assam for papermaking (through Gibson 1977) and its’ wood fibre used for ropemaking, the scented wood is particularly used for incense, and also for clothing drawers (although this has been disputed on the grounds that the wood is too soft for this purpose). It is also used as a wine ingredient in Chu-yeh Ching and Vo Ka Py wine made in Taiwan.
Additionally, oud incense & perfumes are used as a skin daub, for enbalming, and to fragrance soaps and shampoos, and have been prized for thousands of years throughout the Arabian world, as well as being used for Islamic, Buddhist, Confucianist and Hindu ceremonial religious occasions. Kyara wood (see below) is claimed as an ingredient in Shiseido’s Zen Scent (2000 Shiseido Co. Ltd), and M7 by Yves San Laurent claims agarwood as an ingredient. Incenses claiming to contain a supercritical CO2 extract from the oleoresin of cultivated trees are available from Eden Botanicals


Please see Agarwood Bibliography at the end of Agarwood files Database database for references.