The cork oak tree (Quercus Suber) is a native plant in the Western Mediterranean and North African areas where it can thrive in the more barren habitats. It copes with the hotter climates by growing a thick outer layer of bark (cork). The cork is made of a microscopic honeycomb filled with air pockets, which gives it its special properties. The trees are protected in Portugal so that the harvest is controlled, with only specific times of the year, and conditions, when the ten year cycle of peeling or cutting is permissible.
Cork has a unique set of properties not found in any other naturally existing material. It is rot resistant, it floats, water resistant, termite and fire resistant. These are the properties that make cork ideal for the use in more humid conditions found in vivariums etc. It is also flexible, light weight, and it is a good insulator.
Here at The Cork Shed we only select the best A grade virgin cork, which is more difficult to find for sale as quantities are limited. The reason for this is because the cork oak tree takes decades to mature before it can have its first harvest of cork. It’s then and only the once, that skilled professionals can take the ‘virgin’ cork from the trees.
Each piece of ’virgin’ cork is individual with the bark being heavily textured, with distinctive natural colourings and markings, which have taken decades to develop. These make ideal nooks and crannies for plants and animals to feel at home whilst looking aesthetically pleasing.
After ten years the tree has re-grown its thick outer layer and can have its second harvest (second peel), which looks very different to virgin cork being smoother and wood like, not as strong, and without the interesting deep ridges and aged markings. You can spot trees that have been recently harvested by their bright red or orange colour, and the numbers written on the fresh bark showing the date of last harvest.
The cork tubes need more time to form and are rare and harder to source as they cannot be taken from the tree until it has died. The branches then have to be patiently stored for years so the inner oak wood decays, leaving just the outer cork bark, which does not rot.
Our cork products do not have anything added to their natural state, and are carefully stored ensuring that they keep their 100% natural credentials for our customers.