Cork has long been used for wine bottle stoppers, but this material has exploded in popularity in recent years as an eco-friendly flooring option.

You may have heard rumors that there’s a cork shortage, lending to the question: are cork trees endangered? Are we in danger of running out of cork? Here’s what you should know about the state of the cork industry and cork trees themselves.

Is Cork Endangered?

No. This common myth likely originated from news that the rise of alternative wine closures like faux cork and screw caps are reducing demand for real cork stoppers. While it’s true that this drop in demand can endanger the cork industry and potentially reduce cork tree farms, the trees themselves are in no way endangered.

In fact, cork trees live for about 300 years. The trees are never cut down to harvest cork, which is the bark of the tree. Instead, the bark is removed by hand. The bark of the cork tree naturally regenerates about every 9 years. Cork oak trees even benefit from harvesting to keep the tree healthy.

Where Does Cork Come From?

The cork oak tree is the main source of cork products in the world. These trees grow in coastal regions of the Mediterranean Sea with low rainfall, high humidity, and lots of sun. Most cork is produced in Italy, Morocco, Spain, France, Portugal, and Algeria. It’s estimated that there are about 350 cork tree forests in Portugal alone.

Cork oak trees have a unique thick layer of cork bark to protect the tree from the harsh elements, including brush fires, temperature fluctuations, and drought. Cork bark has unique properties not found in other natural materials as it’s liquid and gas impermeable, fire resistant, buoyant, soft, and rot resistant. It’s the only tree bark that does not contain lengthwise fibers.

Is Cork Sustainable?

Cork is considered an eco-friendly material because it does not require cutting down or killing trees. The cork bark is harvested by hand from trees that self-regenerate more bark. While the trees heal from the harvest, the cork itself is biodegradable and recyclable.

The process of harvesting cork has remained unchanged since the 18th century when montados or open cork tree woodlands were used for commercial production of wine corks. After each tree is harvested, a white number is painted and the tree is left alone for 9 years.

According to a WWW report, the cork oak forests in Portugal offer shade to other species, anchor soil, and work very well to regulate water in the semi-arid climate. These forests are essential in preventing the region from becoming a dustbowl. The group even encouraged Portugal to expand its cork forests.

What’s Happening to the Cork Industry?

Cork trees may not be endangered, but the industry is at risk. The rise of more affordable screw caps and plastic corks has significantly reduced demand for cork. The market share of this product, which has been referred to as “nature’s nearly perfect product,” has dropped from 90% to 70%. The value of cork has also dropped by half over the last decade with more than 30 synthetic cork producers in operation today.

Also see:

Where Does Cork Come From?
What Are Cork Cells?
Is Cork a Type of Wood?
How to Make Cork?
What Tree Does Cork come From?
What Country is the Leading Producer of Cork?
How is Cork Harvested?