The tiny Florida town of Wewahitchka is the heart of tupelo honey production, and it took quite a beating when Michael rolled through two weeks ago.

Meghan Overdeep
October 23, 2018
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First came the news of the destruction Hurricane Michael wrought on bumper crops of cotton, peanuts and pecans in Georgia. Now, more than two weeks after it made landfall on Florida’s Panhandle, we’re learning of the devastating impact the monster storm could have on another of the region’s agricultural staples: tupelo honey.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Michael “toppled beehives and stripped flowering plants” in the small Panhandle community that is the country’s primary source of the beloved honey. By all accounts, the tiny town of Wewahitchka, located about 15 miles inland from where Michael came ashore in Mexico Beach, is the heart of tupelo honey production. And the one-stoplight town took quite a beating when the Category 4 storm rolled through.

Gary Adkison, a Wewahitchka beekeeper, told the Sentinel that he lost about 50 of his 150 hives in the storm. Each hive contains between 30,000 and 40,000 bees.

"To be honest, I didn't expect this much damage," he said.

University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences reports that there are approximately 500 beekeepers registered in Florida's Panhandle, with more than 1.2 billion bees in their colonies. Florida produces a number of honey varieties, but it’s the particularly delicious honey from the white tupelo gum trees that grow deep in the swamps in northwestern Florida and southern Georgia, that brings in the most money.

True white tupelo honey does not crystalize, and its low glucose ratio means it can even be enjoyed by most diabetics.

"It's got a fruity, floral burst of flavor," Brian Bertonneau, owner of Smiley Honey in Wewahitchka, told the Sentinel. "It's just a happy dance in your mouth."

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Tupelo blossoms are exceedingly fragile, and keepers have yet to fully assess the damage Michael inflicted on them due to the excessive debris in the remote swamps where they flourish. Luckily, this year’s tupelo honey season concluded in May. However, it’s the fate of next year’s harvest that remains uncertain.

David Westervelt, a state apiary inspection supervisor, told the paper that it could take as much as two to three years for the damaged trees to start blooming again.

"We haven't ever had a storm hit like that, so we don't really know," he said.