Two men taking the bark off a cork oak tree.
The cork oak (Quercus suber) is an evergreen tree which can live 150 to 250 years. It reaches maturity and begins being harvested for cork after 25 years: an incision is first made into the bark with a sharp knife, then the cork is gently lifted from the tree in sections approximately three feet high. It remains stacked in the forest for further maturation for three to six months.
To prevent injuring or weakening the tree, only 50% of the bark, at most, is removed at a time and the same tree is harvested only once every nine years (although this period can sometimes be shortened to six years). Harvesting cork is still a hand process and hasn’t changed much since cork was first used. (Until the middle of the seventeenth century, French wine growers and merchants used oil-soaked rags instead of cork as wine bottle stoppers.)
The caption reads in the original French: