Tree of the week: the Cork Oak

by Matt Davies March 15, 2018 
Cork Oaks are as common as Benfica football shirts and pasteis de nata here in Portugal. An evergreen species, which can grow up to 26 metres tall, and live up to 200 years is the world's most important renewable forest products. The cork bark is harvested from the tree every nine years in thick cylindrical layers to be used in a multitude of goods. 

Where to find Cork oak trees

Cork oaks are commonly found in South-western Europe (France, Corsica, Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, Portugal, Spain) and northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia). The cork oak favours acidic soils, requires a hot dry summer season and a cold and moist winter.

How to spot a Cork oak tree

Its bark is beige, deeply fissured and corky/spongy to the touch, which can be as thick as 15cm. Its leaves, 4cm in length, are weakly lobed with a slight point at the tip. The lower third of the tree has often had its bark removed, revealing a deep reddy orange coloured trunk.

Rewilding

Planting Cork Oaks in Portugal will help support an abundance of rare and endangered wildlife. In Western Iberia, the cork oak forests are home to threatened species such as the Iberian lynx (the most critically endangered feline in the world), the black vulture, booted eagle, Bonelli’s eagle and short-toed eagle, which make giant nests in the trees' branches.

Fighting Fire and our reforestation efforts

Its thick, insulating bark makes the Cork oak resilient to forest fires. After a blaze most tree species regenerate from seed or re-sprout from the base, whereas the bark of the cork oak enables it to survive and  regrow branches to fill out the canopy. The quick regeneration of this oak makes it successful in the fire-adapted ecosystems of Western Iberia. 

Fascinating Facts

- It is one of the few trees that are able to regenerate their bark.

- Cork oaks have been grown since the Middle Ages in Portugal and Spain woodlands grazed by livestock. High-value ham is obtained from the Iberian pigs that thrive on the fallen acorns.

- The European cork industry produces 300,000 tonnes of cork a year, with a value of €1.5 billion and employing 30,000 people. A single tree can cork 4,000 bottles!

- In addition to being used in the wine industry, cork can be used to make surfboards, cricket balls, floor tiles, heels and handbags! 

- A giant Cork oak in Portugal was recently nominated as European Tree of the Year. The 14-metre high cork tree is located in Águas de Moura, in Palmela, Setúbal, and is a whopping 234 years old.

By Matt Davies, Co-founder of Mossy Earth
Mossy Earth is a social enterprise on a mission to bring wilderness back to Europe!

Help us bring back life in to areas devastated by fire in Portugal by planting a cork tree today at our Wildfire Restoration and Rewilding Project.