Tupelo Honey - Food of the Gods

Honeybees are not native to North America. They first came to this continent on ships carrying European settlers. The first recorded beehives were offloaded in Virginia around 1622. There is also a myth that the white tupelo gum tree (Nyssa Ogeche) was imported from Asia. One story recounts that a missionary tasted tupelo honey while in China, and had carried a sack full of tupelo tree seeds back to America. While travelling on a steamship on the Apalachicola River, a thief stole her purse. Not wanting the seeds, he threw them overboard in disgust and the rest is history. While we love the serendipity of this myth, Wikipedia reports that the tupelo tree is a native species. The word "tupelo" is actually derived from two Creek words for tree (itoand swamp (opilwa).

The white tupelo tree likes to grow in standing water, which is certainly plentiful in the Florida Panhandle. In particular, the Apalachicola and Chipola river basins, which run from North to South in Gulf County, are home to some of the highest concentrations of tupelo trees in the world. Each year around mid-April, the tupelo tree forms thousands of green buds that resemble small peas. After a few days, these buds swell into the shape of a tiny, green cauliflower. Finally, near the end of April, the buds will explode with dozens of thin spikes (pistols) which secrete the precious tupelo nectar. In good years, the blossoms will last up to three weeks. During this brief window of time, local beekeepers set out thousands of hives as close as possible to the tupelo trees. Millions of bees then collect and carry the tupelo nectar back to their hives where they product that golden elixir that has been aptly described as “food from the gods.”


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