Cork Oak Trees of Souk Ahras
Situated on the border between Algeria and Tunisia, the province of Souk Ahras experiences a semi-continental climate supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna. Among the trees found in this area are large forests of Algerian oak, flowering ash trees, Aleppo pines, Cypress trees and cork oak trees. There are an estimated 12,000 hectares of cork oak trees in the Souk Ahras wilaya, where it is cultivated and harvested for a variety of products. Harvesting cork is done without damaging the tree and is therefore cork is viewed as a renewable resource.
Cork oaks(Quercus suber) can grow to a height of 20 meters and have a life-span of between 150 and 250 years. They are unique among oak trees in that they are evergreen and have the ability to regenerate their outer bark once it has been stripped. A tree needs to reach the age of 25 years before its cork bark can be stripped without damaging the tree, and the tree must then be given between nine and twelve years to regenerate its bark. Harvesting is done by hand, and the art of cork harvesting without harming the tree is often passed down through generations.
Rather than being grown in plantations, cork oaks are found in forests along with other tree species, including other species of oak trees. The diversity of trees and other plants in Souk Ahras is truly amazing and the animals they shelter is also diverse, including various bird species, hares, foxes, ferrets, porcupines and more. Because of their bark being stripped at regular intervals, cork oaks are easily distinguished from other similar tree species. In addition to being a source of cork, from which bottle stoppers, cork tiles and other products are made, cork oaks are useful in the environment as they build the fertility of the soil and its fruits have insecticidal properties.
The discovery of cork is attributed to the Ancient Greeks and while man-made products are replacing cork in a variety of applications, the product’s unique properties of being impermeable to liquids and gases still makes it the product of choice as stoppers for fine wine and other products. Cork is also lightweight, fire resistant, rot resistant, termite resistat, soft and buoyant – truly a marvel of nature.