The Cork Tree
What is cork and where does it come from?
Cork is the bark of cork oak tree (Quercus suber) and it is extracted for the first time when the tree completes 30 years of age and then every nine years. Cork oak trees are magnificent species found mainly in southwestern Europe (particularly in the Iberian Peninsula) and in northeastern Africa.
Portugal stands out as the country with largest Montado areas in the world and it is also the world’s greatest cork exporter. 80% of this exported cork is used to produce stoppers. Cork oak trees are predominant in the vast Alentejo plains and in Algarve, in southern Portugal. The cork oak Montado represents 21% of Portugal’s forest area and it is responsible for approximately 50% of the world’s cork production. This is a delicately balanced ecosystem and it is protected by Portuguese. Recently, the country submitted the application of Montados to become World Heritage and UNESCO is expected to decide on its approval by 2018/19.
Cork oaks are classified as Portugal’s National Tree since 2011 and its logging is forbidden and sanctioned in all national territory. But it is equally important to mention that harvesting cork does not damage the tree; on the contrary, it improves the health of cork oaks, which can live up to 200 years. After each harvest, the tree produces a new cork layer with the same quality as the previous one.
Here is a short film about the culture, nature and future of the cork industry in Portugal: