Plant of the Month - August

29th August 2023

Plant of the Month - August

The Quercus suber – Cork Oak Chosen by Gardener Jude McNeil

Of the many amazing tree species throughout the gardens at Mount Stuart, my particular favourite is the Cork Oak. It’s a treasured tree species mainly found throughout southwest Europe and northwest Africa, and it provides the sustainable timber product of cork.

In 2011, the Cork Oak was declared the national tree of Portugal - representing the country’s economic, social and environmental values - so much so that it is illegal to cut it down in Portugal. It is tolerant to a Mediterranean climate, so here in the UK, it is said to be best suited to southern areas. However, did you know that a Cork Oak can be found surviving today in our Ornamental ‘Wee Garden’? It is believed to have been planted c.1823 when the garden was first designed by Lady Maria North, the 2nd Marchioness of Bute.

We are extremely grateful to Lady Maria North, who used her imagination and love of nature and beauty to design our unique ‘Wee Garden’. Her drawings of the garden survive in the Bute Archive, and they show that the layout of the garden remains much the same today as it did then. The Wee Garden contains such a celebration of diverse flora from the southern hemisphere that we continue to write about it some 200 years later!

Growing to heights of 20 meters, Cork Oak is an evergreen and produces acorns held in shaggy cups. Its thick and gnarly bark is what is known as the ‘’cork’’. The cork is only harvested once the tree has reached 25 years of age, and then every nine to 12 years afterwards without causing damage. During harvesting, the outer bark is cut and peeled from the tree – all taking place while the tree is standing. As it is one of the few trees that can regenerate its bark, a single tree of 200 years of age can be harvested over 16 times.

These trees are grown predominantly in Spain and Portugal, where more than half the world’s cork is produced. It is primarily used for wine bottle stoppers, flooring, footwear, furniture and even the cores of cricket balls. A single tree can cork 4,000 bottles of wine, making it the most economically valuable product. It is therefore no surprise that there is an old tradition to plant a Cork Oak for your grandchildren, as in 40 years the Oak will be ready to produce quality cork.

All I have left to say is that the Quercus suber is a corker of a tree!