Which is the oldest cork tree in the world?

by | Jan 31, 2024 | General

The recent announcement from Portugal that the oldest cork tree in the world is thriving at Águas de Moura (Palmela) just south of Lisbon prompted a claim from France that this is not true.

Ancient cork tree at Courant d’Huche in the Landes region of SW France. Image copyright © Yohan ESPIAUBE

According to experts in France, the oldest cork oak tree in the world is at Courant d’Huche in the Landes region of SW France.

This truly ancient tree measured in 2023 at exactly 16m in height with a massive trunk girth of 5m and is claimed to have been planted in c.1600 which makes it between 400 – 425 years old.

The Portuguese claim relates to the famous “Whistler” tree (“Assobiador” in Portuguese) – so called because of the sound of the countless birds that rest in its magnificent canopy.

The Whistler Tree at Águas de Moura south of Lisbon. Image copyright ©
The Whistler Tree, post-harvesting. Copyright © Cork Quality Council

The Whistler Tree is recorded as having been planted in 1783 which makes it 240 years old.

This tree is so famous that it has been classified as a “Tree of Public Interest” in Portugal since 1988 and in 2018 it won the European Tree of the Year:

What is not in doubt is that The Whistler tree is the largest in the world at 16.2 metres in height with a leaf canopy of nearly 30 metres and is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as: “The largest cork oak in the world”.

Planted in 1783, the year that the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War, this tree has been harvested more than twenty times in its lifetime.

The largest harvest was in 1991, when more than 1200 kg (2650 lbs) of cork were stripped from its trunk and lower branches.

For reference, most mature cork trees are capable of producing about 45 kg (100 lbs) of cork each harvest, so this single harvest was more than most trees produce in a lifetime.

Within the UK, one of the oldest is an ancient cork oak, planted over 200 years ago in the Amphitheatre of Painshill Park, Surrey, by Charles Hamilton, the park’s founder.

Maintained by Andy Mills and his team, the tree is a significant part of the estate, now accessible through the National Trust.

Old cork tree, Painshill Park. Copyright © Geoffrey Kelly

For more information on how mature cork trees can be harvested every nine years without causing any damage to the tree, visit this link at BBC Future:

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