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The cork oak (Quercus suber L.) is the only tree whose bark can regenerate after being stripped from its trunk. In fact, the only reason this species is exploited since time immemorial is because cork is sourced from it.
Cork harvesting is not detrimental to cork oak trees, as a thick, new layer of cork will grow back and be ready for harvest every nine years. Harvesting is currently carried out with considerable care, both to avoid harming trees and to enhance tree productivity and longevity. Human activity, however, seems to have had a negative impact on tree longevity. Cork oak trees have a lifespan of approximately 200 years and can be harvested 15 times, but the oldest known specimens are over 500 years old.
In addition to the cork oak’s main product – the cork itself – other parts of the tree are used. The leaves are used, for example, as forage or natural fertilizer while the fruit of the cork oak, the acorn is used for animal feed and for cooking oils.
In Portugal, cork oaks are the most important trees, economically speaking, given their high yield. The Portuguese Parliament in 2011 recognized the cork oak as a national symbol while the cork oak itself has enjoyed protected status since 2001 (Decree-Law nº 169/2001 dated 25 May). With the destruction of cork oaks prohibited and their planting and development incentivized, Portugal has become the top exporter of both cork and cork bottle stoppers in the world.
The whistler cork oak tree was named 2018 European tree of the year. Tree of the year