Los Alcornocales Natural Park
Cork is generated by a specialized layer of tissue called cork cambium, a spongy layer of material which grows between the outer surface of the bark and the underlying living layer called the phloem. The harvesting of cork can be done every ten years or so without damaging the tree and the work is done by local co-operatives who work huge areas of forest in strict rotation. This activity provides much needed additional income to local families and acts as a strong incentive to preserve and manage the forests. Cork is used commercially for insulation, as a sealing material, a flooring material and of course for wine corks.
Los Alcornocales is the largest cork oak forest in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important in the world. It is probably the best example of what the densely wooded, primeval Iberian forests may have been like.
The total annual rainfall is between 7 and 18 cm and falls mainly between the months of September through to April although it is not spread uniformally as between 30 and 60 percent of the monthly total can fall in a single day. The average wind speed over the more exposed parts of the park is around 50 mph, with gusts of 70 to 90 mph regularly recorded. This is due to the 'Venturi effect' produced by the Betic and Rif mountain ranges, which narrow like a funnel in the Strait of Gibraltar.
The cork oak (Quercus suber) is a tree that can reach about 20 feet in height. It is evergreen and thrives where there is high rainfall and a sandstone based soil. It grows between 400 and 1000 metres above sea level and blooms from May through early summer. The acorns are prized as food for pigs and ripen from September to January. The understory of the cork can be formed by various species and quite distinct. So on the sunny slopes are found jaguarzo, barberry, white broom, jargon, gorse, matagallo, torvizco, etc. While the shady areas are dominated by heather and bracken.
The wild olive tree (Olea europaea) is found on the lower slopes, where because it is branced from the base it presents an impenetrable tangle of growth. It blooms in May or June and livestock uses its fruit, the acebuchina, which matures in autumn and winter. It's a very long-lived species that can withstand drought and heat, but is sensitive to frost. Los Alcornocales has the largest area of wild olives in Andalucia where they cover just over 17,000 hectares out of a total of 19,000 hectares present in Andalusia.
The holm oak (Querqus rotundifolia) is fast growing and long-lived. It grows in all soil types, is resistant to cold, heat and drought and can be found up to to 1,400 meters above se level. The leaves are evergreen and almost round, it blooms in spring and fall off in autumn. The acorn of the oak is very characteristic, being ovoid in shape with a hat that covers the base. The bark is highly prized and used for tanning, but the timber is difficult to work and prone to splitting as it dries.
On the poorer soils of Los Alcornocales Natural Park is Mediterranean scrubland, made up of Kermes oak, rock roses, and tree heather amongst many other species.
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