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Harvesting natural cork is a tricky operation.  One has to abide by many laws that have been put into place to protect the cork oak trees and their surrounding habitat.  Cork can only be harvested at a certain time of the year and only every nine years.  The tree must be at least twenty-five years old before it can even begin to be harvested.  This nine year cycle will continue for approximately two hundred years before the tree has been spent.

Cork is traditionally harvested from the quercus suber, commonly known as the cork oak, from early May to late August. This is when the tree extractors, or workers/harvesters, can easily separate the bark from the cork oak without damaging or causing permanent damage, thus maintaining the trees’ regeneration capabilities.

These tree extractors harvest the cork by hand utilizing a sharp axe. They make two cuts on the tree, one horizontally and another vertically.  The extractors must make these cuts without damaging the underlying cork cambium.  This is the tissue that lies below the bark of the cork oak.  This tissue is what is responsible for the secondary growth of the cork oak, or rather its regeneration of the epidermis. 

Once the extractors have made these defined cuts into the cork oak bark, they must push the axe handle into the rulers, or the vertical cuts to release the cork oak bark safely from the tree.  The larger portions of the cork oak bark are called planks and are carried from the cork oak forests by hand as the forest areas are rarely vehicle accessible.  The cork is then stacked and left to dry for several days before being transported to a facility for processing.

Harvesting cork bark with these specific processes are what protect the quercus suber from deforestation. It is what protects the ecosystem of many endangered species.  It is what makes this beautiful material a renewable resources and allowing it to exist for many generations to come!

September 23, 2013

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