Cork oak trees can live more than two centuries and start produce cork at around 25 years. Every nine years the bark is extracted and cork is used for several applications. Cork oak is a native tree species in Portugal and is responsible for a typical Portuguese landscape known as montado. Cork oak montados are in general managed as an agro-forestry system and its an ecosystem with many wildlife characteristic species.
Portugal is main cork world exporter. Although one of the main cork uses are cork stoppers there are other uses such as the shoes industry, insulation of houses, furniture, traditional crafts and new fashion clothes.
The use of cork in new products has been well succeed. In October 2009 the Portuguese architect David Mares, with 26 years old, was the People's Prize Winner in an international contest design promoted by the New York Guggenheim Museum. His proposal was the CBS - Cork Block Shelter, which is a cork shelter located in Vale dos Barris in the Portuguese Arrabida Mountain. “In a microclimate that ranges from the dry heat to damp cold, the application of cork is a good way of thermally isolating the shelter and also providing acoustic insulation for study/sleep.” In the North of Portugal, Esposende, a 150 meters house was covered with cork bricks and got a name from the locals as the “cork stopper”. Five Portuguese designers from Corque Design atelier have been using cork to produce objects for the daily life such as chairs, tables etc.
There is an estimated area of 700,000 hectares of cork oak montados in Portugal. This area is mainly distributed in the southern part of the country in the Ribatejo and Alentejo regions, being the biggest forest cover with this forest tree species. Nevertheless, cork oak forests also exist in Spain and in other parts of the Mediterranean basin such as countries from the North of Africa. Cork oak trees are well adapted to the Mediterranean climate characterized by the mild winters and the dry and hot summers.