May 5, 2012

Have you ever thought about cork?

In general, most people don't think about cork or where it comes from.  Did you know that it grows on trees?  I would have never thought that it came from a tree.  The cork tree (Quercus suber) is an evergreen oak found in seven Mediterranean countries: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and France.  It seems to me that all of these countries have various climates and the cork tree thrives in areas with low rainfall, dry summers and high temperatures. Cork is harvested from early May to late August, when the cork can be separated from the tree without causing permanent damage.  When the tree reaches 25-30 years of age then the cork can be manually removed for the first time, but it is usually of low quality. Afterwards, the bark is harvested every ten years. These trees can live up to 200 years of age. The oldest know tree was planted in Portugal in 1783.

Cork has been used in shoes, beehives, fishing gear, boats and housing according to records dating back to the fourth century. 

While Portugal's cork forests are closely watched to ensure their good health and replenishment, Morocco's Mamora forest near Rabat is not so lucky. The acorns are prized by the locals as food and the forest floor is threatened by over-grazing and dense human activity. Public grazing rights in cork forests are now depriving cork trees of essential forest-floor nutrients. Currently, there is a regeneration project and local pastoralists are asked to avoid areas where the cork tree is grown for four years so that more seedlings can be planted and the forest floor is replenished.  Morocco is home to 15 percent of the world's cork and exports 90 percent of it. Cork in Morocco is a foresty resource, while in Spain and Portugal it is managed as agricultural. Dr. Adelaziz El Alami, a forestry engineer, says that they need to change the way they think and work hard to save the forest, not only for them but for those that come after.