This is the International Year of Forests, a perfect time to look at the cork oak tree which supplies us with natural bio degradable fire resistant cork.
Cork oak trees thrive on the Mediterranean climate -- lots of sunlight, low rainfall and high humidity. The Cork oak tree (Chêne-liège) is fairly easy to recognize in our forests here – the trunk is thick, the branches knotted, it is a sturdy tree.
To obtain cork, the oak tree must be over 20 years old.
Using a special hatchet, the cork is cut from the thick rugged tree in late spring, or early summer. The outer bark is carefully peeled away leaving the inner bark completely intact.
The tree has an amazing ability; it quickly forms new layers of cork to protect itself. Even though it might have been stripped 16 times at 9 year intervals the tree is still valuable for 170 years or more.
This ability to renew itself means we don’t have to cut the tree.
Also, cork trees absorb 30% more CO2 than other trees. And, according to CRPR, Regional Centre of Forested Properties in France, one ton of cork can absorb two tons of CO2.
Who first started using cork?
It appears the Greeks were the first to seal wine jugs with cork followed closely by the Romans who also used it for fishing floats and shoes. Today, we too, appreciate our comfortable, healthy cork footwear.
But that’s not all.
Soft but durable cork has so many other uses: cork flooring and wall panelling, everyday products such as handbags and watches, cork furniture and accessories for the home, to name a few. Even NASA recognised the heat insulating properties of the versatile cork and used it in the construction of rockets.
With the environmental and ecological obligations that we face today is it not important that we protect this natural heritage? Cork harvesting not only sustains the livelihood of many but also protects our precious woodland forest.