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Chapter 4



Rosewood oil is obtained by felling wild, Amazonian species of Aniba and steam distilling the comminuted trunkwood.

The oil ("bois de rose") possesses a characteristic aroma and is a long-established ingredient in the more expensive perfumes. Although formerly it was used more widely as a fragrance, particularly in soaps, where the strong top-note could be used to advantage, its relatively high price now makes it uncompetitive with the cheaper, larger volume oils.

Rosewood oil is rich in linalool, a chemical which can be transformed into a number of derivatives of value to the flavour and fragrance industries, and up until the 1960s rosewood oil was an important source of natural linalool. With the advent of synthetic linalool this use largely disappeared. For those applications where natural linalool is preferred, rosewood oil has been displaced by cheaper alternatives (Chinese Ho oils from Cinnamomum camphora). There does remain, however, a very small niche market for the preparation of linalool derivatives possessing an "ex rosewood" character.

Use in aromatherapy formulations, a relatively recent application, has become less attractive as environmental concerns have grown over the destructive nature of rosewood oil production in Brazil.



In the 1960s, exports of rosewood oil from Brazil alone were around 500 tonnes pa. Today, the world market for rosewood oil is about 100 tonnes pa, the decline in use arising largely from its displacement by synthetic linalool. Dem Demand is reported to be stable, those who moved away from using rosewood oil in their formulations having done so many years ago. However, any marked and prolonged upward move in the price of the oil above recent levels could adversely affect demand. Some of the top-of-the-market perfumery houses have expressed concern over the destructive manner of producing rosewood oil and a transition to sustainable production would be welcomed by such users.

Recent exports from Brazil, now the only supplier of rosewood oil, are shown in Table 6.

The United States is the principal importer, followed by Switzerland, France and a number of other EC countries. Regional demand is very small and in 1990 was limited to Argentina (0.4 tonnes).

The magnitude of rosewood oil consumption in Brazil is uncertain; 20-30 tonnes of oil are purchased annually by the fragrance sector, much of it by local branches of multinationals, but it is likely that a large proportion of this is exported, either as the crude oil or in formulations (which are not identifiable in trade statistics).

Supply sources

Production of rosewood oil in Peru, Colombia and the Guianas, where Aniba also grows, declined to negligible quantities after the advent of synthetic linalool in the 1960s. Brazil is now the only supplier to the world market.

Since the fall in production brought about by the loss of linalool markets and, more recently, by the use of cheaper Chinese Ho oils, production levels have been of the order of 100 tonnes pa. Annual fluctuations are mainly the result of differences in rainfall and river levels which determine accessibility to the wild resource. Harvesting of the trees is concentrated around a number of well-defined tributaries of the Amazon in northern Amazonas and southern Para states.

While it should be possible to maintain present production levels in the medium term, the disinclination of youngererations of producers and labourers to undertake the arduous tasks involved in harvesting wild trees, and the increasing costs of collection as wild stands become more remote, suggest that production in the longer term may decline. Attempts at cultivation of Aniba to date have not been successful but the lack of any direct alternatives to rosewood oil in established, top-of-the-range perfumery formulations makes it desirable to pursue such objectives (see below).

Quality and prices

All major importing countries have published standard specifications for Brazilian rosewood oil and there is also an international (ISO) standard. These specify the botanical source and physico-chemical requirements, including the alcohol content (usually in the range 84-93 percent determined as linalool). These standards are minimum trade requirements and for perfumery applications individual batches of oil must conform to the aroma expectations of the buyer.

Notwithstanding the above, there are two grades of Brazilian rosewood oil recognised in trade:

- "Manaus" oil, which is shipped from Manaus, the export centre
for the industry, and generally conforms to the standards described above.

- "American" oil, which is stretched by addition of synthetic linalool
to give a slightly lower priced oil.

FOB prices for Brazilian rosewood oil have been in the range US$18-32/kg over the period 1987-93. Prices in late 1993 were about US$23/kg; they are expected to rise slightly in 1994 as a result of temporary shortfalls in wood supplies (arising from low river levels).


Botanical/common names

Family Lauraceae:

Aniba rosaeodora Ducke
Aniba duckei Kostermans
(syn. A. rosaeodora var. amazonica)

Rosewood (En.), pau rosa (Br.), bois de rose femelle (Fr.).

There is some disagreement as to the exact botanical status of these species. In Brazil, where most of the research on Aniba has been carried out, some groups regard A. rosaeodora as a synonym of A. duckei while others take the reverse view. A third opinion holds that morphological differences that exist within the genus are insufficient to justify separation into two species. Oil producers themselves recognise two plant sources but make no attempt to keep the distilled oils separate.

A number of other Aniba species co-occur with A. rosaeodora (A. duckei) but are not exploited because the oil content is low or the composition/aroma is poor.

Description and distribution

A. rosaeodora (A. duckei) is a large, evergreen tree reaching up to 30 m in height. All parts of the tree are fragrant although only the trunkwood is traditionally harvested and distilled.

Aromatic Aniba species are indigenous to the northern and western areas of Greater Amazonia. In Brazil it is found in the States of Amazonas, Pará and Amapá. Elsewhere in the region it occurs in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Suriname and French Guiana.

Effects of oil production on the natural resource

The perceived threat to the species posed by the destructive nature of harvesting has led to increasingly tight controls on the industry in Brazil. Government regulations exist which are intended to minimise this threat although there are difficulties in enforcing them. The results of recent field surveys in Brazil by Faculdade de Ciências Agrárias do Pará (FCAP) based in Belem indicate, in fact, that the species is not presently faced with extinction. Substantial wild stands exist deep within forest areas which are unlikely to be exploited for logistical or economic reasons.

However, the older, more accessible areas which have been utilised by the rosewood oil industry are effectively devoid of mature trees and there is no significant natural regeneration. This, together with the general problem of deforestation caused by land clearance, has led to a loss of germplasm diversity and a narrowing of the genetic base on which future domestication of the species will depend.


Harvesting is carried out by teams of collectors under contract to the distillery owners. Exploration of new areas is led by someone experienced in identifying and distinguishing the different Aniba species by appearance and odour. Access trails are created as individual stands of suitable trees are located. Whereas, formerly, trees up to 2 m diameter were readily available, these are now only found in the less accessible areas and trees as small as 15 cm diameter are harvested in order to maintain the supply of wood to the distillery. Occasionally, branches over 4 cm thick may also be collected. More recently, species of Aniba other than A. rosaeodora (A. duckei) have been felled as an expedient to bulk distillation raw material.

After felling, trees are cut into one metre lengths and transported to the river bank (which may be up to 20 km from the collection site). Logs are stock-piled and when river levels are high enough (dependent on the season) they are shipped downstream to the distillery.

Most distilleries in Brazil are very basic and designed to be "mobile" so that they can be sited on the river bank and moved around by raft as conditions dictate or allow. In preparation for distillation the logs are cut up into small pieces and then mechanically reduced to chips. Distillation is carried out in mild or galvanised steel vessels which may vary in size from 200-1,000kg capacity (of chips). Steam generation is by boiler fuelled with spent chips.

Yields and quality variation

Yields of oil vary according to the quality of the wood feedstock (collection area and species mix) and its moisture content, but typically are around 1 percent (w/w).

Although there are known to be batch-to-batch differences in linalool content, no systematic studies have been undertaken to determine the intrinsic variability of oil composition within natural populations of Aniba. The need for this has become more urgent with the recent inclusion of non-traditional species in the feedstock and the attention now being given to cultivation as a means of achieving sustainable oil production.


No further processing of the oil is carried out either by the primary distiller or any intermediate before it is formulated for fragrance use by the end-user.


Indians use the wood of Aniba for making canoes but its value for rosewood oil production mitigates against its use for other purposes.


For reasons given above, the consumption of rosewood oil is now determined more by supply and price factors than by other market forces. With the inevitable rise in costs of production consequent upon a labour-intensive operation and the need to go deeper into the forest to locate suitable trees, there is every inducement to consider cultivation as a means not only of ameliorating the loss of biodiversity of Aniba in the primary forest but of ensuring the survival of the rosewood oil industry itself in the longer term. Such a solution would also offer the prospect of increased sales of oil and cash-earning opportunities for some of the poorer rural communities, albeit at a very modest level and on a small scale. Reclamation of small areas of degraded land by rosewood cultivation would be an added environmental attraction.

Research needs

The problems to be overcome before domestication can be considered a realistic, economic option should not be underestimated. Unlike some other Amazonian species which have attracted attention because of their much larger potential market (as sources of fruits or oil seeds, for example), comparatively little research has been carried out on Aniba.

Prior to 1990, studies were carried out on distribution, botany, propagation and silviculture by various Brazilian institutions (including INPA, CENARGEN and EMBRAPA). In addition, some commercial distillers had conducted their own trials by planting seedlings within the natural forest. Growth performance with tunnel planting (in cleared strips) within the forest has been poor.

Since 1990, a new, systematic programme of research has been carried out by FCAP, with technical assistance from UK institutions (NRI, OFI and ITE) and funded by the UK's Overseas Development Administration (ODA). This has involved germplasm collections from threatened sites, research on improved propagation methods and establishment of field trials. Results indicate superior growth rates in open-field situations compared to forest tunnel planting. The longer-term aim of this work is to evaluate the techno-economic potential for formal cultivation, including the viability of producing a marketable leaf oil from non-destructive harvesting (coppicing or pollarding).

Specific needs identified by FCAP for future research on rosewood include the following:

- Development of an economic means of mass propagation of planting stock.
- Determination of the practicality and requirements for field establishment
and the optimum management regimes for short-rotation harvesting of
trunkwood and for frequent harvesting of leaf.
- Appraisal of the market for leaf oil (either as a direct substitute for
traditional wood oil or as a new, alternative source of low-priced
natural linalool).
- Determination of the economics of production of wood and leaf oils.
- Investigation of the options for formal cultivation (as a monoculture or
in mixed cropping systems on under-utilized or abandoned land)
and the socio-economic aspects of production.
- Identification and selection for propagation of elite germplasm.


EOA (1975) Oil of Bois de Rose Brazilian. EOA No. 2. 3 pp. Essential Oil Association of USA.

FAO (1986) Aniba duckei Kostermans. pp. 60-68. In Databook on Endangered Tree and Shrub Species and Provenances. Forestry Paper No. 77. Rome: FAO.

GUENTHER, E. (1950) Oil of bois de rose. pp. 183-193. In The Essential Oils, Vol. 4. New York: Van Nostrand Co.

ISO (1976) Oil of rosewood, Brazil. International Standard ISO 3761-1976 (E). 2 pp. International Organization for Standardization.

KUBITZKI, K. (1982) Aniba. In Flora Neotropica. Lauraceae. Monograph No. 31. 84 pp.

LEITE, A.M.C., SALOMAO, A.N. and LLERAS, E. (1991) Areas Prioritarias para Conservacao de Cinco Especies da Floresta Tropical Umida [incl. Aniba rosaeodora]. 26 pp. Brasilia: EMBRAPA.

LOUREIRO, A.A., SILVA, M.F. and ALENCAR, J.C. (1979) Essencias Madeireiras da Amazônia. 187 pp. Manaus: INPA.

MORAIS, A.A., REZENDE, C.M.A.M., BULOW, M.V.V., MOURAO, J.C., GOTTLIEB, O.R., MARX, M.C., ROCHA, A.I. and MAGALHAES, M.T. (1972) Oleos essenciais de especies do genero Aniba. Acta Amazonica, 2, 41-44.

OHASHI, S.T., ROSA, L.S., OLIVEIRA, F.A., SANTANA, J.A. and SIMONS, A. (submitted 1993) A strategy for collection, conservation and utilization of genetic resources of Aniba rosaeodora. Forest Ecology Management.

PEDROSO, L.M. (1986) Silvicultura do pau-rosa (Aniba rosaeodora Ducke). pp. 313-324. In Simposio do Tropico Umido, 1, VII. Flora e Floresta. Belem: EMBRAPA-CPATU.

SUDAM (1972) O extrativismo do pau-rosa. SUDAM Documentos Amazônicos, 3(1/4), 5-55.
Rosewood logs (Aniba rosaeodora) being transported by river to the distillery, Brazil (FCAP).

3 : Rosewood long ( Aniba rosaeodora) being transported by river to the distillery, Brazil [FCAO]

N.4 : Propagation trials: seeling of Aniba rosaeodora growing in partial shade Brazil [FCAP]

N.5 : Propagation trials: Branch method of developing juvenile stems of
Aniba rosaeodora for clonal propagation, Brazil [FCAP]


Table 6
Exports of rosewood oil from Brazil, and destinations, 1986-92
Of which to: 

Source: Brazilian national statistics

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