Eco-Superstar: the Cork Oak

The Quinta Project

Close your eyes for a minute and think of the Alentejo. Which picture came to your mind? Yellow fields, gently rolling hills… and an old, runkly tree?

Such trees are indeed a defining feature of the Alentejo landscape. The north of Portugal is densely forested with pine and eucalyptus trees. But once you reach the Alentejo region, trees become more sparse and are largely either cork oaks or olive trees. Both of these trees thrive in the hot summer sun, and can withstand the winter breezes of this arid region.

But the cork tree is also an ecological superstar: Every seven to nine years, the cork oak bark can be harvested. This reveals the characteristically chocolate brown and smooth surface seen on cork plantation trees. As cork oak trees store carbon in order to regenerate their bark, “peeling” them is actually a great way to encourage the tree to absorb more greenhouse gasses.

And while most people think of cork mainly as the protector of their wine, cork is, in fact, a greatly versatile product. Cork works well as heat and sound isolators, it is water tight and extremely versatile. Therefore, it can be crafted into anything from shoes to rucksacks, dresses to … post cards and postage stamps (yes, the Portuguese post issued stamps made out of cork in 2007).  Even the heat shield of the return capsule of the Genesis space mission was made out of… cork!

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