Cork oak develops sculptural trunks and branch structure with striking bark texture.

Portuguese neighborhoods in San Jose and other big cities might be identifiable by the presence of the otherwise rare cork oak, Quercus suber. After all, they are native to Portugal, as well as Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far east as the eastern tip of Italy on the north, and the northwest corner of Libya on the south.

Like redwoods, cork oak is one of the few species of trees that survive forest fires by being less combustible. Their foliage and small twiggy stems may burn, but larger limbs and trunks are insulated by very thick cork cambium (bark). Most other trees that are adapted to burning either disperse their seeds as they burn in order to get a head start at reforestation afterward, or simply resprout from their roots.

 Ironically, this bark that is intended to help the trees survive was actually the reason why trees on the north coast of Algeria were so extensively and detrimentally harvested during French  colonialization. Corks made from the bark were needed for the wind industry in France. Fortunately, cork in Algeria is now harvested like it is in other regions, without harming the trees that produce it.

Compared to other oaks, cork oak is not too large. It can get a bit more than fifty feet tall and nearly as wide, but takes a century or more to do so. It can actually stay proportionate to urban landscapes for a very long time. Roots are mostly complaisant. The main problem with cork oak is that it drops its evergreen foliage constantly, and drops floral debris and acorns for a few months.

Gnarly trunks and limbs with spongy bark are the main appeal. The one and a half or two inch long leaves are not so interesting. They are barely convex, often with a few blunt lobes, and dull grayish green from below.


6 thoughts on “Cork Oak

  1. Hi Tony,

    I read somewhere that these oaks were planted on the west coast during WWII (or I?) for use in the war. The cork was used by the Navy for its buoyancy – life jackets? I forget. Brown creepers like them because the craggy bark holds lots of insects.

    Be well.

    Barbara Riverwoman


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would make sense, since they were grown for cork products back then, although not likely so much for corks like they are in Algeria and the Mediterranean Region. I can remember when automotive gaskets were still made of cork.


  2. This cork is used a lot in the pet reptile trade. Big companies sell it because it’s easy to get toenails into to climb. It also holds heat pretty well but doesn’t deteriorate in the high temps of arid desert enclosures. Both of my lizards have cork in their enclosures.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It has been in use for a long time, and I have never heard of a shortage of it. It is not likely as abundant as it was in the 1970s, when it was popular like wallpaper, and wine bottles still used it.

        Liked by 1 person

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