Pterocarpus santalinus seeds mature in September, commonly known as red sanders or red sandalwood, is a light-demanding small tree growing to 8 m tall with a trunk 50 - 150 cm diameter. It is fast-growing when young, reaching 5 m tall in three years even on degraded soils. It is not frost tolerant, being killed by temperatures of −1 °C. The leaves are alternate, 3–9 cm long, trifoliate with three leaflets. The flowers are produced in short racemes. The fruit is a pod 6–9 cm long containing one or two seeds.

Pterocarpus santalinus seeds

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  • The wood has historically been valued in China, particularly during the Ming and Qing periods, referred to in Chinese as zitan and spelt tzu-t'an by earlier western authors such Gustav Ecke, who introduced classical Chinese furniture to the west. It has been one of the most prized woods for millennia. Due to its slow growth and rarity, furniture made from zitan is difficult to find and can be expensive. Between the 17th and 19th centuries in China the rarity of this wood led to the reservation of zitan furniture for the Qing dynasty imperial household.