Scientific name: Aquilaria malaccensis
Family name: Thymelaeaceae
Gaharu trees in Taman Tugu
The Gaharu tree is an existing tree found in the Taman Tugu forest. The tree has been heavily overexploited in the wild leading to strong concerns that it could become extinct. It is listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) Red List and is considered critically endangered in India
Agarwood, or Gaharu as it is known in many Asian countries, is a resinous heartwood that is a fast-growing, and archaic subtropical forest tree . Its seedlings require a great deal of shade and water but will grow rapidly, producing flowers and seeds as early as four years old. It is an evergreen tree growing up to 49amtall, though it is usually rather smaller at around 20m. The bole can be up to 60cm in diameter. It has a pale, thin and smooth trunk, silky young shoots, and leathery, long, sword-shaped leaves that are arranged alternately. Its white flowers are in clusters and its fruits are egg shaped and velvety.
Edible parts are the seeds and bark. It is used to flavour curries. Aquilaria malaccensis, like other species from the Aquilaria genus, is a major source of agar wood resin that is used for perfume and incense. The resin is produced when the tree is infected by a parasitic fungus, Phaeoacremonium parasitica.
Agarwood, the “Wood of the Gods” used as incense, for medicinal purposes, and pure resin in distilled form is used as an essential oil as well as a perfume component. The aromatic resin obtained from this tree is one of the most famous and most expensive on the planet. It has a very long history of use in religious ceremonies, at funerals etc. in the Orient and is widely sought after as an ingredient in perfumery.
Agar wood is an astringent, stimulant, tonic herb that relieves spasms, especially of the digestive and respiratory systems, and lowers fevers. In Western, Chinese and Indian medicines the incense is used against cancer, especially of the thyroid gland. In China it is applied as a sedative against abdominal complaints, asthma, colic and diarrhoea, and as an aphrodisiac and carminative. The grated wood enters into various preparations used especially during and after childbirth, and to treat rheumatism, smallpox and abdominal pains. Decoctions of the wood are said to have anti-microbial properties, e.g. against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Shigella flexneri.
The Gaharu is usually found in lowland primary and secondary forests, and on hills and ridges, up to 750 m altitude. It grows at elevations from a few meters above sea level to about 1000 meters, with approx. 500 meters being most ideal. Aquilaria can grow on a wide range of soils, including poor sandy soil. These trees are native to Malaysia and Singapore.