PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Cork Oak

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

Rosie took us on a magical mystery tour to visit some cork oak (Quercus suber) forests. We had the use of a car for the week to enable us to get around, I was driving that day and was finding it impossible not to get distracted by the gorgeous scenery and plants en route. We didn’t crash however, we all survived in one piece!

Hills of cork oak trees

Hills of cork oak trees


Me with one of the trees, photo by John GouldWe darted off the main road and followed a dirt track until we reached a copse of cork oak, which was recovering slowly from being burnt. Rosie told us some firemen in Portugal will actually start forest fires so they can earn extra money in the overtime they work, putting out the fires. The fires they start always get out of hand and burn up the surrounding vegetation as well as the trees, hence the cork oak and eucalyptus end up getting pretty much destroyed.

The cork oak is harvested in July/August, the cork is treated to remove fungus and graded before being used. The main trunk is stripped, which happens every 7 to 9 years. The year it was stripped is painted on the outside so any harvesters know when the cork was last taken.

Trees with harvesting numbers visible

Cork oak trees with harvesting numbers visible

A cork oak tree badly burnt

Cork oak tree badly burntThey are pruned to a goblet structure, which is the ideal shape to make removing the cork easier. In Portugal you need a licence to harvest the cork, only skilled people are allowed to do it who are employed by professional companies – it’s a big business.

It was weird seeing trees with their bark half stripped and numbers painted on them, it looked strangely artificial in the natural surroundings. The redder the bare trunk then the more recently it had been stripped, usually September/October time is best for seeing them harvested.

Close-up of the bark

Close up of a cork oak tree

Close-up of the barkOn the way back to Quinta da Figueirinha we passed a field of yellow lupins (Lupinus luteus) which was just stunning. They were gleaming golden in the sunlight, it was like seeing fields of buttercups back home in the UK – the perfect end to a perfect day.

Seeing tree after tree of cork oak was a real highlight of the Algarve trip for me. I remember seeing a cork oak tree for the first time in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project three years ago. The structure and texture of it caught my imagination immediately and I vowed then to see them one day in their natural habitat. To have achieved one of my early dreams in horticulture was a special moment, one I will never forget.

Close-up of Lupinus luteus

Close up of lupins, Lupinus luteus

Me with the lupins

Me with the lupins, photo by Rosie Peddle


7 thoughts on “PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Cork Oak

  1. The lupins are so pretty! I was also fascinated by your photos of the cork oak. I read a post last year about cork oak in which the author encouraged us to continue buying wine with real cork corks as this kept so many people employed and did no harm to the trees. I hadn’t realised this before and now know from your post that it is done by skilled people with licences!

    Liked by 1 person

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