See inside Canberra’s 100-year-old cork oak forest
Hidden at the northern end of the National Arboretum is one of Canberra’s lesser known gems — a 100-year-old cork oak plantation.
Walking into the forest is like walking into a cathedral, with sunlight peeping through the lines of cork oak trees planted in rectangular patterns.
The forest was planted in 1917, many years before the National Arboretum was established.
At the time, city planner Walter Burley Griffin and Charles Weston, the officer in charge of forestry for Canberra, were looking to trial different tree species for the capital.
Mr Griffin saw the potential for growing cork oaks in Canberra’s dry climate, and sourced the initial acorns from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.
Mr Weston propagated the acorns at the newly established Yarralumla Nursery, and they were planted in October 1917.
The demand for cork was growing and a second consignment of acorns destined for Canberra was gathered in Spain.
“This particular consignment never actually made it,” National Arboretum manager Scott Saddler said.
“The boat carrying the acorns was torpedoed during the First World War and about 30,000 acorns were lost at sea.”
To mark the forest’s centenary, Canberrans have been invited to celebrate in the forest on Sunday with guided tours, tree stripping demonstrations, music and Mediterranean food.
A Portuguese stripping tradition
Mr Saddler said stripping cork oaks at the arboretum had become a rare event.
“Cork oak trees can only be stripped for the first time once they are about 25 years old and 60 centimetres in circumference,” he said.
After that, trees are generally stripped once every nine or 10 years.
“The cork oaks here have been stripped at least five times over the years,” Mr Saddler said.
“We don’t strip them regularly because of the time and cost involved for the low volume of production and the potential damage to the trees.
“Cork can only be stripped in late spring and summer, with a very sharp axe and crowbar-like tool.”
The first stripping is almost always poor quality and can be used for flooring and other purposes, but it is not watertight enough to be used for champagne or wine bottle stoppers.
Not just wine stoppers
About 340,000 tonnes of cork wine stoppers is produced around the world each year.
“That’s about the same weight as 44,000 elephants,” Mr Saddler said.
“But it’s also used for fridge insulation, engine gaskets, cork tiles, fishing rods and nets, shoe heels, badminton shuttlecocks, bulletin boards, woodwind instruments and even model trains.”
The forest is also becoming a popular venue for weddings and children’s birthday parties, as more people discover its beauty.
“We are seeing more and more families going there to have picnics,” Mr Saddler said.
“It really does have an amazing ambience.”
Guided walks from the National Arboretum Village Centre to the cork oak forest will be run from 10:00am on Sunday, with celebrations in the forest from 11:00am to 3:00pm.