Interesting facts about cork

Cork has a long history. Below we present 6 interesting facts about cork that will allow us to learn more about cork, an environmentally friendly and innovative material.

The largest and oldest cork oak in the world is known as Assobiador (Whistler). The name was inspired by the sound of songbirds falling on tree branches. The cork oak, planted in 1783, is over 14 meters high and has a trunk circumference of 4.15 meters.

During the 2010 NATO summit, celebrities such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton received gifts in the form of cork fashion and accessories. The US president also received a collar for his Portuguese water dog, Bo.

Hollywood uses cork to imitate the remains of explosions. Cork was used in the films “Ghostbusters” and “Mission Impossible”.

The Portuguese cork closes the most expensive whiskey in the world, Dalmore Trinitas 64, which costs 118,000 euros per bottle.

The floor of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona was made of cork to improve acoustics and prevent hypothermia.

No trees are destroyed during the production of cork. After harvesting, the cork oak undergoes a self-regeneration process that cannot be observed in any other species.

Tourism in cork forests

Cork forests are not only the cultivation and harvesting of oak bark, but also a dynamically developing tourism industry. Tourists visit these areas not only in Portugal, but also in Italy, in Sardinia, an island also known for its natural corcan cultivation. There are special websites on the Internet that invite you to take long walks through the growing areas of this versatile raw material. Tourists are also seduced by the prospect of visiting numerous vineyards, medieval fortresses and abandoned chapels.

One of the places in Portugal where we can discover the natural heritage of this beautiful country is the Maroteira farm and its surroundings. Herdade da Maroteira is located on the slopes of the Serra d’Ossa in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. This 330 hectare property has been owned by an Anglo-Portuguese family for 5 generations and was originally active in cork and cattle production until today.

There are currently vineyards on the property that produce internationally recognized wines. The wonderful location offers you the opportunity to undertake numerous activities that will bring you closer to nature. This is how we should live every day, resting in peace in harmony with the environment, learning from plants and animals, enjoying wine and meeting authentic country people – say the current owners of this beautiful farm.

Another form of entertainment for local visitors, who are increasingly looking for alternative ways to spend their holidays and leisure time, is trekking through the Alentejo forest and along country roads with views of the Sierra D’Ossa. Tour guides enthusiastically talk about the advantages of the corcan growing areas.

The residents also have an offer for fans of motorized rides. At you can also book a jeep ride around the Herdade da Maroteira estate at affordable prices and experience the incredible rural atmosphere of the cork forests of the Alentejo region.

On the website we also have the opportunity to take kayak tours in Spanish cork forests along the Rio Palmones. The site also offers the organization of walking and cycling tours in the local forests of the Gibraltar region.

We also have the opportunity to visit cities best known for cork harvesting and processing. These are mainly towns like Grandola, Vendas Novas and Vives. The first point mentioned is particularly noteworthy. The cork oak forest covers about 48% of the total area of the district, i.e. about 39,645 hectares. Thus, at the regional level (NUT II Alentejo), the municipality of Grândola represents 6.4%; nationally 5.4%; and around 1.8% of the total area of cork oaks worldwide. Experience shows that the cork produced in the cork oak forest of the Sierra de Grândola is often considered by various industry experts to be one of the best corks in Portugal and even the world.

Cork in transport

In public transport, cork plays a key role as an insulating agent, reduces vehicle weight and contributes to reducing energy consumption. It also serves as decorative elements, e.g. in the case of cars or airplanes. It is even a key material when it comes to safety. This is the case with rockets and landers of space agencies such as NASA.

Porsche collaborated with designer and influencer Sean Wotherspoon to create a colorful car with the same theme. Based on the Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo, the car takes inspiration from the Harlequin while taking the concept to the next level, even borrowing the interior theme.

As a vegetarian, Wotherspoon wanted to make sure the car’s interior was not covered in leather, so he used corduroy (a material already used in the 911 Targa Heritage Edition) and cork (a material obtained from the bark of the cork oak tree) for the headliner, seats and sun visors. visors, as well as on the dashboard, pillars, center console, steering wheel and floor mats.

Fiat Fiat 500 Spiaggina

Decorated in two shades of sky blue and pearl white, this Spiaggina is typically summery, with no roof like the original and no rear seats, as it now has a cork-adorned storage compartment and an integrated shower, presumably designed to remove sand after a day at the beach.

The model pays tribute to the world of sailing, such as a low windshield (almost non-existent) and a cork structure covering the rear with a pattern imitating teak-floored boats used on board, yachts.

Cork can be combined with various thermoplastic materials, partially replacing plastic and creating more sustainable end products.

These materials can be processed using various production techniques – such as extrusion, injection, thermoforming, blow molding or continuous pressing – to create components fully tailored to the customer’s technical requirements.

Cork polymer blends (CPC) can also be visually customized to suit the aesthetic needs of the final design.

The use of cork composites helps reduce weight and, as a result, reduce power costs. Additionally, thermal comfort and the lack of noise are important, which the cork also has a significant impact on. The railway industry is one of the segments of the economy where energy consumption is important in the context of economics and ecology.

The high stress parameters of cork composites developed in laboratories with the safety of railway passengers in mind are also important. It is also worth mentioning that the German company Siemens is the co-author of a solution that allowed the use of a light and flexible cork floor in the Warsaw metro.

The last but not least important parameter of the cork is fire safety. This last parameter was the main reason why NASA, for nearly half a century, has used a mixture of cork and other materials to protect the skins of its rockets, which must endure extreme temperatures as they pass through the atmosphere. In airplanes, cork is used to create finishes or, as in trains, to reduce the weight of the machine. In yachts, next to teak wood, it is the most popular solution.

A suitable cork composite is resistant to moisture and heating from the sun. The automotive industry is also a very popular place where cork is used. Brands such as BMW and Mercedes use cork finishing for car interiors, such as dashboards. Rubber cork and its use in the form of car seals as a more ecological alternative to rubber are also popular.

Why isn’t natural cork another example of greenwashing?

Greenwashing is “the act of misleading consumers about a company’s environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” However, it may also be carried out, intentionally or unintentionally, by governments or other entities that make misleading claims about the environmental performance or impact of their activities. Here are 3 selected examples of greenwashing.

1) Hidden compromise

This example focuses on one narrow pro-environment feature, neglecting to pay attention to more important and broader environmental issues. Examples include technology that promotes energy efficiency without disclosing hazardous materials used in production.

Why doesn’t this apply to natural cork?

In the case of, for example, expanded cork, it is made of cork granulate heated to high temperatures in special vats. In these vats, a natural granule-binding ingredient – suberin – is produced, thanks to which it is possible to obtain cork slabs without any chemicals.

2) Unclear wording

This issue concerns claims that are very broad and unclear, which may consequently be misunderstood by consumers. An example would be using the word “natural” to claim the environmental benefits of a product or service. For example, both arsenic and uranium are “natural” ingredients, but they are also poisonous.

The cork production process is completely transparent

Cork is obtained by partially removing the bark of the oak tree. It is a sustainable process that takes place without harming the tree and the surrounding flora and fauna. The bark is not used for extraction and use
no chemicals.

3) False sustainability labels

Some companies create “sustainability” certifications or labels that are simply false. They can mislead consumers by creating the illusion that a product or service has been independently certified as environmentally sustainable through a legitimate third-party audit process, when in fact this is not the case.

Natural cork has a globally recognized FSC certificate.

The acronym FSC itself stands for Forest Stewardship Council, i.e. Council for Responsible Forest Management. It is an international not-for-profit organization and a member of ISEAL – a global association of social and environmental standards systems. The certificate, based on the Principles, Criteria and Indicators of Good Forest Stewardship, is issued by the above-mentioned FSC Council.

What are the Principles, Criteria and Indicators of Good Forest Stewardship?

This is a document of standards, developed in 1994, based on the knowledge and experience of ecologists and generations of foresters – both theoreticians and practitioners. When developing the document, the FSC Council, in addition to these elements, also took into account the achievements of modern education and the functioning of forest management.

The use of cork oak bark

Cork oak bark has many uses in gardens, zoos and animal terrariums.

Here are some ways you can use it:

  1. Garden pots: Bark from the cork oak can be used to make garden pots. Its natural insulating properties will help protect plant roots from extreme temperatures. In addition, cork bark is lightweight, durable and weather-resistant, which makes it an excellent material for outdoor planters.

  1. Pavement in zoos: In zoos, cork oak bark can be used as a natural paving in animal enclosures. Its soft and flexible structure provides comfortable conditions for animals and helps to maintain proper soil moisture.
  2. Zoo decorations: Cork bark can also be used to create decorations in zoos. It can be used as a decorative element around catwalks, on walking paths or around observation decks. The cork bark adds a natural charm and is safe for pets.

  1. Substrate in terrariums: Cork oak bark can be used as a substrate in terrariums for animals. It can be a natural and safe substrate for reptiles, amphibians and other animals living in terrariums. Cork bark keeps moisture in and also provides shelter for animals.
  2. Animal Traverses: Cork oak bark can be used as a material for constructing traverses in enclosures for monkeys, lemurs and other wildlife. Its natural texture allows animals to grip and move along traverses naturally.
  3. Another very popular solution is the cultivation of orchids on cork bark. This is an effective method of growing these beautiful plants. Cork bark provides a natural and durable surface for orchid roots to adhere to and allows good airflow and drainage.


Portuguese Oak and Cork Festival

National Cork and Cork Oak Day, celebrated on June 1, appears on the Portuguese calendar to mark interest in a species with great historical symbolism and high environmental, social and economic value.

Valued since antiquity for the properties of its bark, the cork oak has described the properties and uses of cork for thousands of years. Several scholars identify traces of its use from China to Egypt, initially as a seal for containers, insulation for houses, and a floating fishing buoy. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus already described in his botanical texts, about 2,200 years ago, how Quercus suber was distinguished from other species: “round barrenness causes the death of every tree (…). But perhaps cork oak is an exception. Because it gets more vigor if you remove the outer cork…”

This long use earned it the protected species status it now holds from an early age. For example, the Visigoth king Alaric II (485-507) promulgated a set of Roman laws in force in the Iberian Peninsula, which included measures to protect cork oaks. In Portugal, its protection probably began in the 13th century with the release of King D. Sancho I in 1209 year of the customs and laws of Castelo Rodrigo and Castelo Melhor, which set fines for anyone who destroys cork oaks, threatening the production of cork oak, used in animal feed.

At the end of the 13th century, during the reign of King Dinis, letters appeared protecting cork and holm oak, prohibiting and punishing “burning and massive cutting of fruit, illegal harvesting of green branches and, above all, excessive felling”

These and other characteristics have been described over the centuries, multiplying the uses of the native cork tree, the value of which extends to the use of acorns and the ecological importance of Montado (as cork plantations are called in Portugal), a system developed by man and perfected over the centuries in Portugal to “improve use and profitability of scarce resources in a region characterized by a Mediterranean climate and poor soils’.

In the 21st century (2011), the Assembly of the Republic enhanced the symbolic status of the cork oak by declaring it “the national tree of Portugal”. This status results, among others, from its important function in soil protection, regulation of the hydrological cycle, carbon storage and, among others, water quality, i.e. ensuring basic ecosystem services .

In addition to the thousands of jobs it provides, cork has a significant weight in Portuguese exports: over a billion euros in 2020 (and also in 2019), according to the international trade statistics of the INE – Instituto Nacional de Statistic. APCOR highlights this contribution – Associação Portuguesa da Cortiça, which estimates it at around 2% of Portuguese goods exports and 1.2% of total exports, with a positive trade balance of €815.6 million. Portugal is also the world’s largest exporter of processed products, with 63%, equivalent to €986.3 million.

3 suggestions for celebrating National Cork and Cork Oak Day

In the National Korka and Oak Korkowy there are many opportunities to get to know this species better and learn more about its features and advantages. Here are three suggestions:

Discover the largest cork oak in the world

In various parts of the country, there are several cork oaks that are natural monuments, trees that stand out from other species in terms of size, construction, age, rarity, historical or landscape value. One of the most notable is the “matching tree” or “whistling cork oak”. In 2018, this unique cork oak in the village of Águas de Moura (Palmela) was awarded the European Tree of the Year and entered the Guinness Book of Records as “the largest in the world”. It is 16.2 meters high and covered with leaves with a canopy with a diameter of nearly 30 meters.

In addition to the extensive shade and shelter it provides to the birds, its contribution to cork production stands out: it is considered the most productive cork oak in the world, providing enough cork to produce 100,000 plugs.

Visit the Oak and Cork Observatory

Celebrate the Day of this species, which can live up to 250-300 years, by visiting the Coruche Oak and Cork Observatory. Designed by architect Manuel Couceiro, the building refers to the metaphor of the cork oak as a living element. In addition to laboratories and workshops for the study of cork oak and cork, the building also includes a space dedicated to collecting information related to the cork industry and an auditorium.

Discover the Planet of Cork

In Gaia, a new natural museum dedicated to cork was opened in 2020. As an interactive experience, Planeta Korka invites you to discover the various uses of this product, from the ancient exploitation of cork oak to the most diverse and avant-garde applications, such as traditional wine corks or applications in the aerospace industry.

Cork on Yacht

The natural closed-cell structure of Core Cork provides reduced thermal conductivity and is non-slip. Cork used as a yacht deck covering does not absorb water and does not rot. Core Cork is a wood fiber material with naturally closed cells and does not decompose over time. This leads to huge long-term benefits over competing products that can be susceptible to rotting and decay.

Core Cork has excellent resistance to fungal growth compared to other decking materials. The cork used in yachts is easy to cut with standard cutting tools and saws. It recovers up to 85% of its original thickness in case of a strong impact and 100% in case of most impacts. Core Cork also rarely delaminates on impact. Core Cork bonds with all standard laminating resins: PE, PU, VE, Epoxy, Phenolic.

In addition to its resistance to typical marine environmental influences such as salt water and UV radiation, cork’s durability also comes to the fore compared to other decking materials. Cork also has the unique property that it does not heat up in the sun, so on a warm sunny day you can walk barefoot on the deck without the discomfort of a heated deck.

Cork in transport

Cork in the means of transport plays a key role as an insulating measure, reduces the weight of the vehicle and will contribute to reducing energy consumption. It also serves as decorative elements, e.g. in the case of cars or planes. It is even a key material when it comes to security. This is the case with rockets and landers of space agencies such as NASA.

The railway industry is one of those segments of the economy where energy consumption is important in the context of economy and ecology. The use of cork composites helps to reduce weight and, as a result, reduce the cost of powering trains. In addition, thermal comfort and the lack of noise are important for passengers, which is also significantly affected by corks. The high stress parameters of cork composites developed in laboratories with the safety of rail passengers in mind are also significant.

Cork in the means of transport plays a key role as an insulating measure, reduces the weight of the vehicle and will contribute to reducing energy consumption. It also serves as decorative elements, e.g. in the case of cars or planes. It is even a key material when it comes to security. This is the case with rockets and landers of space agencies such as NASA.

It is also worth mentioning that the German company Siemens is a co-author of a solution that allowed the use of a light and resilient cork floor in the Warsaw subway. The last, no less important parameter of the cork is fire safety.

The latter parameter was the main reason why NASA has been using a mixture of cork and other materials for nearly half a century to protect the skins of its rockets, which must endure extreme temperatures while breaking through the atmosphere.

In aircraft, cork is used to create finishes or, as in trains, to reduce the weight of the machine. In yachts, next to teak wood, it is the most popular solution. The appropriate cork composite is resistant to moisture and heating from the sun.

In aircraft, cork is used to create finishes or, as in trains, to reduce the weight of the machine. In yachts, next to teak wood, it is the most popular solution. The appropriate cork composite is resistant to moisture and heating from the sun.

Cork Flammability Classification

Thanks to the thermal properties and poor burning of cork, cork oaks are more fire resistant than other trees. The slow burning of cork makes it a natural flame retardant, creating a fire barrier. Its combustion does not emit smoke or toxic gases.

Cork, like other insulation products, is subject to fire classification. Fire classification has two basic functions:

  • allows you to embed the given materials into the facility by confirming their fire properties,
    is the starting point for the selection of security

Fire classifications are issued by the relevant research units for manufacturers of systems or products. An important part of each classification is the description of the solution to which it applies and the scope of its application (validity).

The fire resistance classes of a structure, here a wooden structure, indicate the ability to perform specific functions during a fire. The fire resistance parameter is marked with the letter “R” and numbers, e.g. 15 (this is the number of minutes after which the load-bearing elements cease to fulfill their function). Important parameters are also fire tightness “E” (flame and gas impermeability) and fire insulation “I” (temperature impermeability). On the basis of these parameters, the fire resistance class of the building is determined. Fire resistance is most often determined by the architect and firefighter on the basis of the law.

In cork studies, cork is assigned fire class E. Cork has a heat resistance of R-3.6 to R-4.2 per inch. This is a better value range than loose fiberglass (R-2.2 to R-2.9 per inch) and fiberglass mats (R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch). Cork has a low thermal conductivity – cork is an ideal thermal insulator. Its thermal conductivity coefficient is 0.045W/mK. Due to its poor thermal conductivity, cork is always warm to the touch. The fire safety of cork is also supported by the fact that it is used in space shuttles due to its lightness, in a mixture with other materials for insulating e.g. fuel tanks in rockets or insulating landers.

In the video below you can see how hard it is to set fire to a cork.

Application of cork powder extract in cosmetics

Cork powder as an ingredient in cosmetics?

There is a growing demand among consumers of cosmetics for products based on natural ingredients. Cork oak bark extract has a very effective anti-aging effect and is a valuable raw material for daily skin care.

Cork has the amazing ability to constantly renew its shell. For skin care products, this means improved skin quality and smoothness. Cork oak extract is a truly versatile anti-aging weapon! With regular use, scientific research has confirmed several beneficial effects!

For example: intensive hydration, reduction of skin roughness, strengthening of the skin barrier and strengthening of the skin’s protective functions.

Cork extracts contain interesting ingredients with specific properties, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can improve the effectiveness of cosmetic preparations currently available on the market.

Cork and its by-products, such as cork dust, can be an important source of many bioactive compounds.

These natural products exhibit a wide range of relevant properties, namely antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, releasing and depigmenting effects.

They can be used in various pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. Products of this type prevent skin aging and have a depigmenting or supportive effect in the treatment of acne and skin inflammation.

The heterogeneity of the chemical composition and unusual properties make cork dust a material of great potential and importance. Recycling and valorization of cork by-products in the cosmetics industry is part of the current perspective of sustainable development.

In 2005, one of the French cosmetics companies patented an idea for cosmetics based on the use of cork powder:

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