Bromeliads are a Neotropical family which means they grow virtually exclusively in the New World tropics (and subtropics). Most come from South America with the greatest number of species found in Brazil. They range from Chile and Argentina in South America through Central America and the Caribbean reaching their northern limit at Virginia in the southeastern United States. A single species (Pitcairnia feliciana) is found in western Africa. Bromeliads altitude range is from sea level to over 14,000 feet. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats from hot, dry deserts to moist rainforests to cool mountainous regions.
They are found in a variety of growing situations: Terrestrial species are found growing in the ground (the way we expect most plants to grow). They may be found growing in bright sun along sandy beaches to the shady understory of a forest among the leaf litter and debris. Saxicolous species are found growing on rocks. They may grow on hard rocky outcrops where their roots may penetrate cracks and fissures to locate moisture or organic nutrients or sometimes they are found growing tenuously on sheer cliff faces. Epiphytic species are found growing on other plants, usually trees, shrubs or cactus but sometimes they can be found on telephone poles or even on the telephone lines themselves. This capability to take their nutrition and moisture from the atmosphere has earned these bromeliads the name "Air Plants".