Cork is the bark of Quercus Suber L., which is native of the Mediterranean basin, and finds there its natural habitat, being Portugal the number one country for cork production. Cork trees grow with zero inputs: no pesticides, no irrigation, and no pruning required.

Cork oaks are considered a national heritage, and so oaks are legally protected and regulated: trees may not be cut down, by law. Trees aren't harvested until about 25 years of age and then only every 9 years. Not only does this encourage long term, sustainable planning, but it encourages planting crops for future generations, and not for instant profits. Cork oaks grow up to a height of 82 feet and can live for up to 300 years. A cork oak can be harvested many times during its lifetime and, on average, will produce 440 lbs of cork — enough raw material to produce approximately 25,000 natural wine corks. Cork forests also provide an unique habitat for several endangered species and are a crucial resource against desertification and fires.


The harvest or strippings are carried out by hand. It is an extremely delicate operation done by skilled cork harvesters. These workers are well trained and are paid a good living wage. The experienced workers use a machete to slice the bark into sections. They then use a metal wedge to peel these sections from the tree. The bark easily separates from the tree shedding only its outer layer, delineated by a skin-like membrane which separates the bark and the inner trunk of each tree and after the stripping of the bark, the tree fixates almost five times more carbon. By law, the tree can only be harvested every nine years, so after a tree is harvested, the last digit of that calendar year is written on the tree to ensure it will be not harvested again until the right time comes.

The  remarkable properties of cork where noticed some thousand years ago:  writers like Pliny, Aeschylus, Pindar and Theophrastus, all wrote about this tree whose bark could be removed without harm, and reported the use of cork for sealing amphoras, on the making of footware and floaters, and as an insulator. The properties that our ancestors found empirically in cork are the same that make cork an unique material in our days.

Cork is, therefore, not only a remarkable material in terms of inherent properties: it is also a natural, sustainable product, and choosing cork means choosing a better life, in a better planet.

 

From a tree that keeps on growing…