Monday, September 18, 2023

Cork oak through the ages

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Cork is a very important economic product of Portugal Cork is used for many purposes The most common use is as a wine bottle cap which is still used by wine merchants

From childhood there was a keen interest in the small vials of homeopathy medicines and their lids i.e. corks. Father had a small hobby homeopathy medicine dispensary at home. Small was a lovely black medicine box that was used when traveling to different places. It contains some essential and common homeopathic medicines. The center of attraction for our little ones was the white sweet pill in the little vial that my little brother would sometimes eat the whole vial if within reach. Whenever I got a chance, I used to buy empty vials with caps from my father and make medicine vials for my playhouse. I used to fold the paper and cut the corners to make marks and apply it on the small vials, and when playing with fever, measure the marks and feed colored water in the name of medicine from these small vials. The corks stuck to the mouths of these little vials were lovely. The corks were cut very beautifully and perfectly.

Cork is a very important economic product of Portugal. Cork is used for many purposes. The most common use is as a wine bottle cap which is still used by wine merchants. Cork is also used for cricket balls. Cork has also been used as a very important product for making badminton shuttlecocks, shoe soles, floor mats, etc. for a long time. It has long been used in the automotive industry as insulation panels and as a sound deadener. Cork is also used for handicrafts and artistic crafts. This cork was also widely used as a CP in homeopathic medicines for many years. Now probably plastic CP is used. Being water resistant, their barks do not corrode easily and are therefore very popular as bottle caps of various sizes. Our widely used cork is actually made from the bark of a large type of tree. Hence the common name of the tree is cork-tree. Cork trees are abundant in southwestern Europe and northeastern Africa. According to one estimate, 22 million hectares of cork trees are cultivated in the world, of which 34 percent is cultivated in Portugal. Portugal meets half of the world’s total cork demand every year.

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Apart from Portugal, this tree is cultivated in Spain, Algeria, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia. Cork oak is considered a soil builder. Their fruits are believed to have useful insecticidal properties. Cork oak forests occupy an area of approximately 6,200,000 acres worldwide. 50% of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal. Cork oak trees cannot be felled easily or willingly in Portugal. A tree can be felled only when it becomes too old and management deems it fit for felling. Farmers bring permission from the Ministry of Agriculture to cut trees. No cork oak tree can be felled or killed without permission from the Ministry of Agriculture.

A grove of cork oak trees looks from a distance like a rain-tree or a great roaring tree. This oak tree is thick and very shady like a rain-tree. There is no need to cut trees to collect cork. The bark can be removed without injuring the plant. Cork is made from the thick bark of the tree. The bark is collected from the beginning of May to the end of August. This bark is quite thick. From the beginning of May the cork tree looses its bark a lot. Those who collect the bark are called extractors. The bark of this tree can be collected very easily. It is possible to remove the bark of this tree only by pulling on the bark after giving a light push. The bark of this tree contains a lot of suberin. The cork cambium layer of bark is quite thick and bark can be taken from trees aged 7 to 10 years. Taking the bark does not harm the tree. In fact no tree is completely destroyed to extract the bark. New bark grows again. After the bark is removed, the trunk of the tree appears red in color.

The common name of these trees is cork oak. The scientific name is Quercus suber. A member of the Fagaceae family. Medium sized evergreen tree. The tree has leaves all year round. The tree bears fruit in May and June and ripens in October. Male and female flowers occur on the same plant. They are pollinated by wind. Their habitat is Mediterranean countries. Forests of this tree are found in southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa. Once there were forests of this tree all over the Mediterranean country. But due to indiscriminate bark extraction and felling of trees, the forest of this tree is now almost extinct. However, the use of plastic and metal-cork has become popular, so there is some hope for the future of this tree. These trees are fifty-sixty feet high. Although they are quite short in their native habitat. Leaves are 4 to 7 cm long. The edges of the leaves are grooved. Dark green leaves. The bark of these trees is thick and the insulating power of their bark does not harm them in case of forest fire. After a forest fire, many species can regrow trees from seed. And some plants can grow new buds from the base. such as Holm oak. The bark of the cork oak tree protects the tree from fire, re-grows new leaves after the fire stops and the whole tree is covered with leaves. Rapid leaf growth allows fire-burnt oaks to quickly adapt to the ecosystem.

Cork oaks typically live for over 200 years. The Sobreiro Monumental Oak is located in the Portuguese city of Águas de Moura. This cork tree is 236 years old. The tree is 16 meters tall and requires 5 people hand in hand to fence its trunk. Since 1988, this tree has been considered as a national monument. In the Guinness Book of Records, this tree is mentioned as the world’s largest and oldest cork oak tree. Virgin cork is first harvested from 25-year-old trees. It then takes another 9 to 12 years to collect the bark a second time. Bark can be harvested from a tree 12 times in its lifetime. Cork is harvested without any tools. Human labor is mainly used for bark extraction. Usually the workers use an ax to remove the bark. But this job requires training to remove the bark without damaging the tree. The European cork industry produces 300,000 tonnes of cork annually with a value of €1.5 billion. Cork costs 15% for wine bottles. One ton of cork can be obtained from one large oak tree.

The seeds of the cork oak are edible. It is called famine food. The seeds can be dried, ground and used to thicken stews. Bread is made by mixing it with cereal. The seeds contain bitter tannins. A long wash in tap water gets rid of tannins but also washes away many minerals. Another traditional way to get rid of tannins is to put the seeds in a bag and put them under the ground during the winter. Germinated seeds are brought to the surface in spring, when most of their tannins are gone. Their roasted seeds are used as a substitute for coffee.

Applying dry cork oak leaves as mulch at the base of the plant can help ward off slugs. If fresh leaves are applied to the base of the plant, however, it is harmful for the growth of the plant. Many galls or tumors are formed in the body of this plant. They are formed in the presence of different species of larvae. Insects live in these galls and obtain nutrients from these galls. It is wind proof tree. This tree can be used as a shelter belt tree. This tree grows very well in Cornwall, England, where it is abundant. Seeds lose their viability very quickly if they are over-dried. Germination is best if the seeds are stored with some moisture and kept cool. Sowing the seeds as soon as they are ripe gives better germination. Protection against rodents and squirrels may be required. Small seeds can be planted deep in the pot. The tap root of this tree is very deep in the soil. So it is better to plant them once in a permanent place. It is not advisable to keep seedlings in the nursery for more than two years. If the plant is moved repeatedly, the plant is damaged.

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