It started as a hobby and grew into global commercial success

FCI Interviews: Herb Hill of Raingreen Tropicals is a renowned bromeliad and orchid breeder, and he talks in June 2022 FloraCulture International.

Herb Hill is not a mainstream bromeliad breeder, and he doesn’t breed mainstream bromeliads. He is considered a gentle genius by the global bromeliad industry. His most significant achievement has been reducing crop time and introducing bold and beautiful Vriesea bromeliads onto the global marketplace.

Rows upon rows of fiery red, yellow and purple Vriesea bromeliads perfectly fill the low-roofed and wooden-framed greenhouses of Raingreen Tropicals. These are Herb Hill’s seedlings, resulting from years of selective breeding. It is safe to say that this tropical treasure trove will have bromeliad enthusiasts feeling like a kid in a candy store.

Hill came to bromeliads early in life. In 1971 he took a break from graduate school and worked for an interiorscaper whose hobby was growing and breeding bromeliads. He primarily worked with Vrieseas. He shared his breeding technique with Hill, who went on to open a wholesale interiorscape nursery in 1972. Hill’s first Vriesea breeding programme debuted in April of 1973.

FloraCulture International: What was your aim when you began breeding bromelia?

Herb Hill: “Strictly began as a hobbyist; to see what I could do. Working with Vrieseas captured me and opened a new world to me. Seeing your results and seeing if they meet your expectations makes breeding Bromeliaceae very rewarding.”

You developed a soft spot for the bromeliad genus Vriesea, am I right? Tell us more about your successful Intenso line?
“The Intenso line of plants is Bjorn Bunnik’s idea. He wanted to make a line of Vrieseas of distinct colours and size for the market place.”

With a life, long dedicated to bromeliad breeding, with so many Hill varieties having conquered the world market, do you think there is still room for improvement?

“When I began, I was overwhelmed with the number of Vriesea hybrids that were made by the Europeans. Vrieseas have a large genetic pool of characteristics, so there was plenty of room for me to use new species and create new and improved hybrids. Think Vrieseas, which have a shelf life in the interiorscape of six weeks where the Guzmanias are good for 12 weeks. I am sure with selective breeding in Vrieseas the shelf life can be improved.”

What are the most important criteria to focus on when it comes to future bromeliad breeding?

“In my opinion reducing crop time, producing bold primary colours, and unique, arty shade colours that give the new varieties “flower power”.”

With Hill Vriesea selling worldwide, from the USA to the Netherlands, from Italy to China, your contribution to the global bromeliad sectors is not to be sneezed at; but what do you think has been your most outstanding achievement in breeding bromeliads?

“Reducing crop time. When I began, it took five to six years to grow a new variety from seed. I reduced that time to 2.8 to 3 years by selective breeding. As a result, I have been able to produce new varieties for Bunnik, Deroose, Twyford, and Oglesby labs. There is a growing interest in bromeliads world wide. It is important to continue to produce novel bromeliads to satisfy this demand.”

What do you think are the most significant breeding breakthroughs in bromeliads now?

“Finding new species to breed with. Producing bigeneric varieties, breeding multifloral varieties, and breeding with the help of the laboratory.”

You work with large commercial growers. Typically these growers focus on the economic and technical aspects such as yield, plant habit, crop time, crop density, uniformity and transportability. Meanwhile, the end consumer will mainly focus on the product’s aesthetic value. How do you serve both worlds best?

Herb and June Hill are renowned bromeliad and orchid breeders at Raingreen Tropicals.

“I think the two worlds are compatible with innovated breeding. Everyone who is interested in bromeliads helps to create new ideas and innovations from the hobbyist to the commercial breeder.”

If bromeliad breeding is about solving the needs of today’s consumers. What are these needs precisely about?

“Today consumers are more educated about plants. They are looking for quality grown plants that are easy to grow and long-lasting to accent their homes and to give as gifts.”

The average plant variety market life reduces, so breeders’ returns are under pressure. In such an environment, breeders may choose not to protect their releases. What’s your stand on this?

“It is a matter of individual choice. The knowledgeable breeder should do what is necessary to protect his line of breeding. In terms of plant protection, there is always room to improve the plant system in the USA. The breeder should always look for better protection for his work.”

How serious is the problem of IP theft in a quintessential bromeliad market such as China?

“China has become a major consumer of bromeliads. The Chinese market is challenging to work in. Protection of new varieties is very difficult in China.”

Judging from comments from bromeliad insiders, you are a bromeliad veteran, and I am confident you continue to nurture your passion for plants. But do you ever think about retiring?

“I still get excited to see the results of my latest work. I enjoy pushing pollen. So, I don’t see retirement in my future.”

In the case of retiring, I guess your treasure trove of bromeliad, your invaluable genetic pool, and your knowledge must be conserved for future generations. I understood from Bjorn Bunnik that the Bunnik Bromeliad company is ready to continue some of your breeding work. Tell us about this exciting partnership.

“I have given Bjorn Bunnik a large genetic pool of plants. This will permit him to continue refining existing line of breeding and open new avenues to peruse. I feel confident my work will be most helpful for the future of Bunnik’s Vrieseas and the industry.”

More than two years have passed since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, causing massive disruption to the global flower industry. Where is the worldwide bromeliad industry now, and where is it heading?

“With people spending more time at home, bromeliads have become more common in the market place. The market is strong and with new breeding should remain so.”

Anticipation is building for the World Bromeliad Conference in Sarasota from 7-11 June. Why is attending this conference so crucial for the global bromeliad industry?

“It is an educational and social event for bromeliad enthusiasts worldwide. Hobbyist, collectors, commercial growers, breeders, and researchers share their work and ideas. It is a meeting of people who develop life time friendships.”


Name: Herb Hill
Married to: June Hill, a renowned orchid breeder
Occupation: Bromeliad and orchid breeding. Hill’s Raingreen Tropicals began growing and selling Bromeliads in 1972 and soon began producing new varieties from seed.
After more than a decade, the first hybrids went into tissue culture in 1988.
He has varieties produced in laboratories in the US, Belgium, and China three decades later.
Herb and June added orchids to their commercial production in 1990.
In 2004, the Hills established a laboratory at their facility.
The lab now produces both orchids and bromeliads from seed and tissue culture.


↑ Back to top