Dark circles of green -- the wrong kind of green in the wrong place -- spread out over the sandy soil at the base of each tree in the orange groves leading into town.
Orange farmers call one of their earliest-ripening varieties "Pineapples." But, in the days after Hurricane Charley tore through Florida's inland orange country, the fruit on the ground looks more like green racquetballs. Small. Hard. Useless.
Charley was a ruthlessly efficient harvester -- the hurricane arrived a couple of months before an orange is supposed to be dislodged from its branch. The storm stripped oranges and grapefruits from countless trees. In some of the worst-hit fields, two or three oranges dangle from each tree and thousands lie on the ground. In other places, trees are split down the middle, lying on piles of soon-to-be-rotting citrus.
The devastation in the groves strikes at one of the state's signature industries, the ubiquitous "Florida orange juice" behemoth that is recognizable worldwide. Florida produces more oranges and grapefruits than any other state; the industry has an economic impact in Florida of $9 billion a year, including $1 billion in tax revenue.
Great chunks of that economic juggernaut could be imperiled, though the damage is still being assessed. The storm last week shredded swaths of seven of Florida's biggest citrus-producing counties, responsible for one out of three oranges and grapefruits raised in the state.
Charley arrived at a jumpy time for citrus growers here, who were already rattled by recent battles with inexpensive imports and -- more important -- a huge dip in sales attributed to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, which discourage drinking orange juice. Some growers worry that the devastation will force many out of the citrus business.
Frances Causey, 92, has watched Florida's best-known crop get its color all her life, a life of frost and drought and economic catastrophes.
"We've had ups and downs, but we've never had this," she said Monday.
Causey -- alone in the rock-solid clapboard house her father built nearly a century ago -- watched as Charley ran roughshod through her groves. The house sits up on a bluff, overlooking Wauchula, one of the dozens of small towns in Florida's interior raked by the storm's winds.
These little towns -- places that don't show up on many maps, with such names as Zolfo Springs, Brownville, Fort Ogden and Moffitt -- are dozens of miles from the coastal towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, which have gotten the most attention in the aftermath of Charley. Far from major media markets, the tiny rural communities have slogged along in a kind of grim, solitary survival march.
The vast tracts of soggy land around the towns look like "old Florida" -- swamps filled with cabbage palms, meadows shaded by oak trees and miles of citrus groves. Pickup trucks steered by men in sweat-stained fertilizer-company hats skid and bump down narrow, rutted country lanes, where barely solid land seems to be losing the battle against the overwhelming wetness. The accents are slightly twangy. There are no high-rise condominiums, no Euro-hipster dance clubs.
These are places that grow things -- oranges and grapefruit and cattle -- and make things. They aren't places people go on vacation. Tourists don't come here. This is the other Florida, the one that feels like the Deep South. And some, the people who call this other Florida home, feel forgotten in the storm.
"We were listening to the radio and the television and they never talked about us," said Mary Stombaugh, who lives on a country road outside Arcadia, about 50 miles from Sarasota. "It really upset me."
Stombaugh and her husband, Jerry, never thought a storm that started in an ocean could find them in the country-road heaven they fell in love with two decades ago.
They hosted 11 relatives and friends in their house, each fleeing cities closer to the coast, or to the north, that were supposed to take direct hits but went largely unscathed. The orange groves across from Stombaugh's house are ruined, but she was looking Monday at half a dozen toppled oak trees, so old they "must have been planted by God."
Just up the road from Stombaugh's home, with a bright-blue tarp now serving as a roof, tractor-trailers hauled fat tanks into a crumpled orange juice processing plant so huge that it resembles an oil refinery. Jason Cloud drove out to gaze at the sagging plant, calculating the impact on a region where agriculture is king.
"You drive around and it almost makes you cry," said Cloud, who works as an orange grove harvesting coordinator.
The citrus business, like any agricultural endeavor, has its own calculus of supply and demand. The misfortune of growers slapped around by Charley will likely produce higher prices for the farmers whose groves went unscathed.
"They'll benefit from our loss," said John Causey, the nephew of Frances Causey. "Maybe five years from now, we'll benefit from their loss."
But Palmer Simmons, who manages the Causey orange groves, wonders whether poorer farmers -- those saddled with heavy land and production loans -- will become discouraged after the twofold blows of the low-carb-generated downturn and the storm.
"It's been a tough deal," Simmons said. "Put this storm in there and a lot of people, they just won't be able to make a go of it."
On the ground, next to his dusty boot, a rough-skinned little Valencia orange lies half buried. It is split open and sour -- done before its time.