Rainforest Flora, Inc. was formed in 1976 by Paul T. Isley III, Jerrold A. Robinson, and William Harris.
Paul Isley was introduced to tillandsias while a student at UCLA in the 1960's. He was fascinated by these incredibly unique looking plants that grew with no soil. A few years after he graduated from UCLA from with a degree in Economics, he and a friend traveled through Mexico and Guatemala collecting some plants. Paul flew back up to Los Angeles from Guatemala City in the summer of 1974 and a few months later he began gluing them onto pieces of grapewood and offering them at swap meets and arts and crafts fairs.
After two years of doing this he invited his friend Jerry Robinson to join him. He had met Jerry while on a diving expedition in the Caribbean that was searching for Spanish Galleons. Jerry graduated from UCLA with a degree in Geology and had been managing a K-Mart store in Sacramento. He came down for a few weeks and made the committment to the business and he has been an integral part of the operation ever since. The two have built Rainforest Flora, Inc. into a respected nursery concern. There are many interesting episodes, anecdotes, vignettes, and narrow escapes that occurred over the course of the 28 years since the business was begun.
Bill Harris was a Canadian business management consultant who, along with his wife, Ann, fell in love with Guatemala and moved there in the early 1970's. Bill soon opened the first Tillandsia exporting business soon in that country. He also spent a great amount of time and money helping the people of that beautiful country. Tragically, Bill was murdered in February, 1986. His was a great loss for all of those close to him as well as the country of Guatemala.
The goal of Rainforest Flora, Inc. has always been to provide the best quality plants at the best prices to the most markets and people. This business was begun with a passion for Tillandsias and it has expanded to encompass other Bromeliad genera and other plant genera and families as well.
Self-Sufficiency in Tillandsia Production
Rainforest Flora, Inc. made a commitment in the early 1980's to try to become self sufficient in the production of Tillandsias. Since the plants take anywhere from six to twenty years to mature from seeds, this was no small undertaking. The amount of financial sacrifice and total dedication to this task was a stiff price to pay that no one who has not gone through it can fully appreciate. We are most proud and yet humble to say that since 1993 Rainforest Flora, Inc. has been completely self sufficient in the production and distribution of Tillandsias. When a company sells some 10,000 of these plants a week we consider it an achievement.
Our plants are produced at two facilities in North San Diego County, California. The total horizontal growing space for the plants is almost 300,000 square feet and the Tillandsias in the various stages of growth number in the millions making Rainforest Flora, Inc. the largest producer of Tillandsias in North America and one of the largest in the world. If one subtracts plants that are collected from the environment, that are a major part of Latin American nursery trade, and considers only nurseries that distribute mature "home grown" specimens, then Rainforest Flora, Inc. is perhaps the largest. If another nursery advertises that they are the "Largest Tillandsia Grower in North America" it's just not true in terms of greenhouse space or numbers of plants. We will be posting photographs of our nursery locations because we are proud of what we have accomplished.
Of course we understand that size, in and of itself, doesn't really mean anything. The quality of the plants themselves, along with pricing and availability are most critical for a good relationship with wholesale and retail customers. Rainforest Flora, Inc. has a tremendous variety of species and hybrids, all grown in their entirety in the U.S.A. Also of paramount importance are the personal relationships established with customers and those around us. Integrity, honesty and dependability are critical components of a successful business.
In the 1970's and early 80's Isley and Robinson counted as their friends some of the best Neoregelia hybridists around; people such as Don Rock, Carl Lambert, and Charles Wiley. Over time, they were able to acquire the pick of their collections in addition to producing exotic hybrids of their own. Today, a 20,000 square foot greenhouse is devoted solely to Neoregelia, the Colorful Rainbows of the Bromeliad World.
Guzmanias & Vrieseas
In the late 1990's RFI began the production of the more available potted Gumanias and Vrieseas with which to supply growing retail, internet, and wholesale markets. At the same time, RFI has begun distributing many of the most beautiful, rare, and exotic fenestrated Vriesea hybrids. Photos of some of these will be soon posted on our website.
RFI has also become a primary grower of Platycerium (Staghorn) ferns. In the mid 1980's RFI bought an extensive collection of these wondrous semi-epiphytic ferns from a gentleman in Louisiana and spent years multiplying these plants from vegetative offsets. Some of the species and cultivars are still very rare while others have become more available.
Palms and Cycads
In 2001, RFI began growing exotic palms because of their great appeal for ornamental horticulture enthusiasts. Many of these are on display and available at the company's Torrance, California facility. RFI has been growing cycads for many years and boasts a moderate inventory of plants as well as books and rare posters.