harvesting cork bark display portugal

Harvesting History of Cork Bark

by Paige Gray

Delve into the world of cork bark – a canvas for air plants and so much more! Cork stands out as a particularly special medium, thanks to its renewable resource nature and the rich centuries-old tradition of its sustainable harvest. Each piece of cork bark requires a lot of time and manpower to be harvested from the forests of Portugal and brought to our customers' homes. We'd like to share what our team learned when visiting the cork bark production facility outside of Porto. Read on as we share what we learned first-hand.

Origins of the Cork Industry

Cork bark in Portugal has a fascinating history that's been evolving for centuries. It all began way back when ancient civilizations like the Phoenicians and Romans discovered the nifty properties of cork. They used it for sealing containers, as fishing net buoys, and in construction – pretty versatile, right?

air plant tillandsia display cork bark portugal

Fast forward to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and cork was still a big deal. It was especially used in shipbuilding and construction. Portugal was smart enough to protect its evergreen cork oak trees with some solid laws due to foresight in the value of the product. In the 18th century, they took cork even more seriously, regulating its harvesting and setting the stage for the modern cork industry.

In the 19th century, cork stoppers became the go-to choice for sealing wine bottles, making Portugal a cork powerhouse. But hold onto your wine glasses because things changed in the 20th century. The cork industry expanded beyond stoppers, with cork being used for flooring, insulation, and all sorts of clever products. Yet, it faced some competition from alternatives like screw caps and synthetic stoppers. This led to cork producers getting creative and finding ways to stay on top while also focusing on sustainable practices! Today, Portugal continues to be at the forefront of cork production, emphasizing sustainable practices to protect cork oak ecosystems while meeting global demand for cork products. The country's cork industry plays a significant role in its economy and cultural heritage, making cork harvesting an important tradition with a rich history.

Gentle Harvesting

air plant tillandsia display cork bark portugal

In Portugal, the home of 35% of the world's cork bark trees, generational harvesters work carefully to provide the majority of the world's cork products though their careful harvesting process. Harvesting doesn't start until the cork oak tree is 33 years old, and it remains untouched for another nine years before the bark is harvested again. When it is finally time, harvesters carefully make incisions along the trunk of the tree with rudimentary tools, such as sharp axes and specialized knives, outlining rectangular sections. These sections are then strategically separated into panels, ensuring the tree's vital cambium layer remains untouched. This layer, just beneath the bark, is crucial for the tree's growth and continued survival. In fact, cork oak trees thrive under this method, and their bark regenerates over time. This makes cork one of the most sustainable materials around! 

Unlike many classic industries, cork harvesting has not yet been rendered obsolete by machines because it is a very difficult and conscious job. 

air plant tillandsia cork bark display

Cork Bark in Air Plant Displays

Air Plant Shop's cork bark Tillandsia displays are made of "virgin" cork which means it was the tree's first harvest. It is considered the highest quality cork and is typically used for premium products, such as wine stoppers, luxury fashion accessories, musical instrument components, and high-end crafts, due to its purity and lack of imperfections. As you can see in the image on the right, this is what gives our displays the "rough", natural look.

air plant tillandisa wine work magnet displayAlthough Tillandsia are not native to the old world, the bark helps imitate their natural homes, seamlessly connecting the cork bark to the new world. Many of our cork bark displays are "do it yourself" or DIY, such as the Medium Cork Bark with Three Air Plants, and we are confident that you you will find great inspiration while creating your display! We also offer cork bark as Planters with Assorted Air Plants or Planters with a Mini Xerographica if DIY isn't your thing. Of course, we could not not offer Wine Cork Planters with Assorted Air Plants which have magnets on the back to enjoy every time you look at the fridge (or wherever you choose to showcase them). Cork bark provides endless opportunities for showing off Tillandsia while paying homage to the tradition of cork bark harvesting.

Shop our Wholesale Cork Bark displays.

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