The cork tree is typical of the western Mediterranean region. It is known as Quercus suber L., and belongs to a sub-group of European and Asian oak species (Cerris). One of its most distinctive properties is the outer homogeneous layer that grows around its trunk, called cork. The continual phellogen regeneration causes the homogeneity of this layer during its lifespan. Contrary to other species, with limited phellogen production capacity, the cork oak tree keeps regenerating over and over again.
As stated before, the words “waste” and “cork tree” don’t go together. Cork trees might be one of the most versatile trees ever to grace the world.
The acorn, its fruit, serves as food for other animals, to further seed new trees, and to produce culinary oil. Moreover, the leaves can be used as natural fertilizers and fodder for the animals.
The tree’s pruning results in vegetal coal and wood, useful for many immediate communities and post-processed products. The cork tree oils also find an interesting application through its chemical properties, such as directly natural beauty products.
The cork tree is very well adapted to the Mediterranean climate – thriving in summer droughts and the region’s relatively mild winters. It is present around the Mediterranean basin, but most of its cultivation area is located in the Iberian Peninsula, split between Portugal and Spain.
The forest montado area is also present in other surrounding countries, although with less expression. Of the total 2,139,942 ha of cork forest montado, Morocco has 18% of the global Montado area; Tunisia 4%, and France and Italy each have 3%.
Most of the Portuguese Montado is located in the south region of Portugal.
Alentejo ranks 1st place in the total cork forest area in national territory, comprising 84% of the forest fields. The Center and Algarve areas come up next, with 6% and 5% respectively; Lisbon and Tejo Valley and North come in last, representing 3% and 2% of cork tree forest area (APCOR, 2016).
Although scattered around the Mediterranean and particular areas in each country, the tree is very resilient and resistant. Its lifespan can go up to 200 years, even with successive cork layer stripping’s.
The cork can be extracted from the tree’s outer layer every nine years without causing any harm to the Cork tree. That means a tree can have its cork stripped safely about 15 times during its lifespan.
Not only is it durable and resilient, the fact that it maintains its foliage throughout the year means its cycle of photosynthesis lasts much longer than other trees. One tree can reach from 32 up to 49 ft in height (when adult) and withstand many variable climatic conditions.