Used for wine bottle stoppers or flooring this natural material believe it or not is made from the bark of a tree. More interestingly the tree is not harmed during the harvesting processes (not cut down) and generally lives for 150-200 years.
The tree bark that is used for cork comes from a Cork Oak, Quercus suber, it is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It can grow up to 20 meters tall, although it is generally found much smaller in its native environment. Like most oaks its leaves are lobed ranging from 4-7 cm long and its acorns range from 2-3 cm long.
The bark is first harvested when the tree has reached the age of 25. The bark is harvested by hand, first by making an incision then gently removing it from the tree in 1’x3’ sections. The bark then is stacked and age for a period of 3-6 months. This process is repeated every 9-12 years. According to one source I found no more than 50% of the bark is removed, allowing the tree to protect itself. Another source stated that each tree will quickly form new layers of cork in order to protect itself.
The first bark/cork harvest generally yields a harder cork that is used in flooring. The second harvest (9-12 years later) yields a softer material yet not good enough for a
bottle stopper. By the third harvest the tree produces a bark that is suitable for wine stoppers. I never knew that it was such a lengthy process to make the cork in a wine bottle!