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Most trees have an outer layer of cork bark. The cork oak, or Quercus suber, however possesses a much thicker band of cork than most tree species. This cork layer is composed of water-resistant cells that separate the outer bark from the delicate interior bark. The cork protects this species of oak from the fires, droughts and temperature fluctuations that are common Mediterranean countries such as Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Spain.

Cork was used to pad helmets during the 1800s. You can think of cork as a precursor to the collapsible foam liners in modern helmets. Cork could be found in many “pith helmets” as a readily available substitute for the actual pith, a material primarily harvested from vascular plants native to Asia.

Cork is rarely incorporated in helmets today, though it does have a few interesting things going for it as a material. Cork is lightweight, rot resistant and impermeable to liquid, which is why it has been the preferred means of sealing wine bottles for more than 400 years now. That said, the labor costs alone (it must be removed from trees, boiled and shaped) make it an unlikely choice for helmet liners today.

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