December 22, 2014
Tallahassee tung oil

Photo: Ray Stanyard

The USDA shipped Greg and Marnie Frost 150 tung tree seedlings. Frost launched Gulf Coast Tung Oil after becoming impressed by a tung-based wood finishing.

Agriculture in Northwest Florida

Tallahassee tung oil

Charlotte Crane | 6/19/2013

Tung oil was first produced in the United States in Tallahassee 100 years ago, derived from the fruit of seedlings brought from China by a U.S. ambassador. Over the following three decades, tung trees became regional insignia— their salmon-pink petals adorning murals, sports regalia and postcards — and tung nut oil became an industry, used for wood finishes, inks, paints, skin balm and other products.

Tallahassee claimed to be the capital of the Deep South’s Tung Belt. But then came hurricanes, freezes, concern over the nuts’ toxicity, cheaper foreign production and competing acrylic paints. “It was a slow collapse. The entire industry experienced a major setback,’’ says Tim Rinehart, plant molecular geneticist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s horticultural laboratory at Poplarville, Miss. Over 40 years of research, the facility has created hardier and higher-yield tung oil plants but has been awaiting a grower.

That’s where Greg Frost comes in. Frost, administrative services director for the Tallahassee Police Department, became interested in tung oil’s business potential after noticing a tung tree in his back yard. Impressed by a tung-based product for wood-finishing, he began delving into history — and launched Gulf Coast Tung Oil.
This spring, the USDA shipped 150 experimental seedlings to Frost. His earlier tung tree plantings on 50 acres in Leon and Jefferson counties could start producing within two years. “The oil has unique properties,” says Frost.

“It’s a sustainable product.’’ He thinks demand and prices will rise. Home-care products containing tung oil are widely sold. Also a factor: China — a leading producer along with South America — has successfully used tung oil as a biofuel component for a trial passenger flight.

“We think there’s a real chance for establishing a specialty market for tung oil,’’ says Rinehart.

Tags: Agriculture, Energy & Utilities, Northwest

Digital Access

DIRECT DIGITAL ACCESS
Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single ditgital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.

ACCESS THIS ISSUE »

Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Terms of Use Privacy Policy  Indian Rocks Beach Post Office Celebrates 100 Years
Terms of Use Privacy Policy  Indian Rocks Beach Post Office Celebrates 100 Years

It cost a penny to mail a postcard when the Indian Rocks Post Office opened 100 years ago in December 1914 on a mainland dirt road leading to a ferry in the “Narrows.” 

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

How do you feel about the historic decision to remodel US-Cuba relations?

  • Well, it's about time!
  • I'm cautiously optimistic...
  • I'm skeptical about this at best...
  • Not in favor at all: Keep the embargo strong!

See Results

Ballot Box
Subscribe