Remember the stories of the tireless traveler Vladimir Klavdievich Arsenyev about the majestic and severe thickets of the Ussuri Territory? Fabulously rich, they now amaze researchers. There are many rare species of trees, shrubs, vines that you will not see in the natural forests of any other geographical region of the world. Mongolian oak and Chinese magnolia vine, Manchurian walnut and Ussuri pear, magnolia and aralia.
One of the indigenous Far Eastern plants is cork, or velvet tree. On a sunny summer day, the ash-gray velvety bark of its trunk and sprawling branches with an emerald green crown are clearly visible on the dark green background of the Far Eastern taiga. Even more beautiful is a velvet tree in autumn, in a golden veil, so in harmony with clusters of small dull black berries. Even in winter, dropping leaves, the tree attracts attention with its original branching and elastic cork bark.
The velvety surface of the trunks of this tree can be accurately recognized even by touch. The name velvet tree, or velvet, was given to the tree by the first Russian settlers. Botanists call it Amur velvet. This is one of the oldest plants of the Far Eastern flora, the pedigree of which begins with the preglacial Tertiary period. Amur velvet is a peculiar living monument of subtropical forests that covered all of Europe, Siberia and East Asia in those days. It is no coincidence that he is a close relative of citrus crops (orange, lemon, mandarin) and belongs to the same root family. More than 10 other types of velvet grow in Japan, Sakhalin, Taiwan and Central China, but all of them are inferior to the Amur counterpart in the quality of the cork layer of the bark. Some species do not have a cork layer at all or they have it much thinner and of worse quality, while in Amur velvet it grows up to 6 centimeters thick.
Amur velvet settled in the Far Eastern forests mainly along river valleys and in fairly lit places. Sometimes it reaches a height of 32 meters with a trunk diameter of up to a meter. This tree usually lives 150-200, and sometimes more than 300 years.
In the spring, when the whole taiga is already green, velvet does not open leaves for a while. They appear almost a month later than other trees. Botanists consider this a kind of reinsurance in case of late spring frosts. But the speed of flowering velvet, as it were, catch up. Starting to bloom soon after the leaves appear, it fades in 8-10 days.
This period seems to be just waiting for millions of bees. The honey-bearing flowers of the Amur velvet among Far Eastern breeds are second only to the Manchurian linden in honey bearing. True, the bribe from velvet is earlier, since it blooms two weeks before the linden blooms. During flowering from the crowns of velvet, a dull buzz of bees is heard, actively collecting not only nectar, but also pollen. Each bee family harvests up to 8-12 kilograms of honey, and in especially favorable weather the daily collection reaches 2 kilograms. Honey collected from the flowers of Amur velvet has a characteristic greenish tint and exceptionally delicate taste and aroma. It was found that even after 23 years of storage, this honey does not show any signs of crystallization. It completely retains for such a long time and amazing taste and healing properties. He is especially curative for tuberculosis.
Velvet fruits ripen in early autumn and hang in heavy black clusters until the start of winter. Their shiny dark balls contain five seed seeds, which are a treat for gray-headed woodpeckers, blue magpies, and blackbirds.
© A. Barra
Since ancient times, local residents have known about the healing properties of the bast, leaves and fruits of this amazing tree. Velvet wood is highly valued, featuring a unique pattern and dark brown color. It is strong, light, low-hygroscopic. But the main "tax" that people levy on the gray giant is traffic jam. By the way, Amur velvet is the only domestic cork bearer suitable for industrial cork mining.
The trunk and large branches of velvet are surrounded by a thick layer of elastic cork, which is largely unparalleled among other materials. This is in fact a real miracle of nature: because the cork does not allow the most corrosive liquids and volatile gases to pass, it does not affect the smell, the taste of the products that come into contact with it. It has high heat, sound and electrical insulating properties, does not change under the influence of chemical reagents (acids, alkalis, alcohols).
About 90 of the most diverse products are made from cork. Even crumbs and cork dust are carefully collected and used in the production of linoleum, linkrust and other construction and finishing materials.
© Magnus Manske
It is significant that the Soviet experts opened this domestic most generous test-bearer. The tsarist government did not even suspect such a rich tree of forests of the Far East and imported cork from abroad. Our researchers have done a lot to study the biology of Amur velvet and cork harvesting technology. In the summer of 1933, the first test batch (90 tons) of cork bark was prepared in the Far Eastern forests. Since that time, procurement has been continuously growing from year to year. In parallel, a wide test and breeding of Amur velvet in the European part of the USSR is carried out. At first, this plant was grown only in botanical gardens and arboretums, then they gradually began to be introduced into the experimental and industrial plantings of forestries.
The planned, widely conceived acclimatization of Amur velvet lasts about 30 years. Cork tree can now be found on large areas of new forest plantations in the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine and the Caucasus. In Ukraine alone, Amur velvet is planted on more than 5,000 hectares; in the north of the European part of the USSR, its culture reaches the breadth of Moscow and Leningrad. New plantings every year give more and more industrial traffic jam.
© Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
Experiments have shown that the cork layer can be removed already from an 18-year-old tree, and a healthy 25-year-old tree gives up to a kilogram of high-quality cork. After the first harvest, the tree is usually provided with rest for 10-12 years. During this time, the removed layer of the cork is completely restored.
For millions of years, Amur velvet has occupied new places or left the old ones, obeying only the elemental play of nature, now its present and future are largely determined by the thought and will of Soviet people.
Links to materials:
- S. I. Ivchenko - Book about trees