It is a flowering plant (angiosperm) in the family Bromeliaceae (the bromeliads) that grows hanging from tree branches in full sun through partial shade. Formerly, it was placed in the genera Anoplophytum, Caraguata, and Renealmia. The northern limit of its natural range is Northampton County, Virginia, with colonial-era reports of it in southern Maryland where no populations are now known to exist. Its primary range is in the southeastern United States (including Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands) through Argentina, where the climate is warm enough and a relatively high average humidity occurs.
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