According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) the Cork Oak (Quercus suber), one of the trees of the Sonoma Plaza, is a priority species. Priority species are considered by WWF to be the most “ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet.”
Indigenous to southwest Europe and northwest Africa, forests of these beautiful 60-foot evergreen trees provide habitat for the endangered Iberian lynx and Barbary macaque as well as the Iberian imperial eagle and the Barbary deer.
Cork Oaks typically live to be 250 years old. They develop a very thick spongy bark grey bark that is highly fire resistant. After a forest fire Cork Oaks regenerate much more quickly than many other trees.
The bark has been the primary source of wine bottle stoppers for hundreds of years. The process of harvesting cork is sustainable and does not kill the trees. The cork bark can first be harvested when the tree is about 25 years and then repeated every 12 years. It takes five to six people to harvest the cork from one tree. It is done solely by hand with special axes and carefully trained harvesters. Many groves are passed down from generation to generation. According to the Cork Quality Council “The cork industry employs an estimated 100,000 people throughout the Mediterranean region.”
In Portugal Cork Oaks are highly protected and one needs special permission from the government to remove even a diseased tree.
Sonoma is lucky to host an attractive Cork Oak living in the northeast corner of the plaza near the Bear Flag Monument. Stop by and take a look at this lovely specimen. Note its deeply fissured spongy bark and its tough grey-green leaves.
Like our Coast Live Oaks here in Northern California Cork Oaks are drought tolerant and love the heat and sun. Once mature they provide acorns for habitat, leaf litter for soil building and a soothing shady space for critters and people alike. If you have a large property with some wide-open spaces consider planting one. They are magical trees!