A A. extensa (L. B. Sm.) Grant, cui affinis, sed laminis foliorum brevioribus, ramis perpaucis, lateralibus patente-decurvatis sed apicem versus ascendentibus longioribusque, floribus majoribus, petalis longioribus, subtus apicem versus vinosis differt.
PLANT rupicolous, flowering ca. 210 cm high with inflorescence extended;
LEAVES ca. 20 in number, densely rosulate, erect, forming a broadly crateriform rosette;
SHEATH oblongovate, ca. 15 x 11 cm, subdensely and minutely brown-lepidote, pale colored;
BLADES linear, not narrowed at base, 43-45 x 7.5 cm, thinly coriaceous, green, chartaceous, inconspicously and sparsely white-lepidote abaxially, apex rounded to subacute and apiculate.
SCAPE stout, ca. 95 cm long, 1.5-1.8 cm in diameter, erect, glabrous, dark purplish-wine;
SCAPE BRACTS the basal ones subfoliaceous, the upper ones broadly ovate, acute and apiculate, 6-10 x 5-7 cm, suberect with recurved ipex, its basal portion enfolding the scape and with water-holding capacity, distinctly exceeding the internodes but not hiding the scape, green except for the dark purple-wine apex and apical margins, inconspicuously and sparsely white-lepidote to glabrous, covered by white epicuticular wax.
INFLORESCENCE laxly paniculate, bipinnate, ca. 95 cm long (including the terminal branch), erect;
PRIMARY BRACTS resembling the upper scape bracts but smaller, many times shorter than the stipes;
BRANCHES 2 to 4 in number (including the terminal one), the lateral ones ca. 105 cm long, spreading-decurved with ascending apex, densely flowered in early anthesis to laxly flowered afterwards, ca. 31-flowered, rachis flexuous to geniculate, subterete to slightly if at all angulose, 2-4 x 0.5-0.8 cm, glabrous, covered by white epicuticular wax not obscuring its dark purplish-wine to dark green color,
stipes ca. 29 x 1 cm, terete, dark purplish-wine, glabrous, bearing ca. 3 sterile bracts shorter to equaling the internodes,
the terminal branch resembling the lateral ones, suberect-ascending, ca. 78 cm long, ca. 22-flowered
basal peduncle ca. 30 cm long, bearing 4 sterile bracts slightly shorter to equaling the internodes, ecarinate;
FLORAL BRACTS suborbicular, 40-45 x 38-40 mm, yellowish near the base and dark wine-colored toward the apex and margins, inconspicuously and sparsely white-lepidote inside, glabrous outside but covered by white epicuticular white wax, not completely enfolding the sepals and equaling 2/3 of its length, distinctly convex, corrugate near the apex at anthesis, ecarinate, strongly corrugate- sulcate after anthesis, apex obtuse-emarginate.
FLOWERS sub-distichous, divergent, slightly secund, suberect; nocturnal but showing open corollas along the next morning in colder days, densely arranged toward the apex in the early anthesis to sparsely arranged afterwards, 13-14 cm long (with petal extended, including the stamens),
PEDICELS stout, 10-12 mm long, ca. 10 mm in diameter at apex, dark green-wine, glabrous;
SEPALS narrowly elliptic, apex narrowly obtuse-emarginate, ca. 43-46 x 20-22 mm, inconspicuously white-lepidote inside, glabrous outside, free, ecarinate, green toward the base except for the wine apex and apical margins, thick-coriaceous near the base, thinly coriaceous toward the apex;
PETALS linear or nearly so, apex narrowly obtuse but appearing acute due to the enrolling margins, ca. 110 x 8 mm, yellow at base and adaxially, dark yellowish-wine abaxially and at apex, strongly recurved at anthesis and completely exposing the stamens, becoming pendent-flaccidescent afterwards, bearing at base 2 linear, obtuse to subacute, entire, 33-34 x 2-2.5 mm appendages adnate to the petals for ca. 28 mm;
STAMENS exserted at anthesis, suberect and radially disposed, exceeding the petals;
FILAMENTS terete, white, the antesepalous ones free, the antepetalous ones adnate to the petals for ca. 4 mm, strongly plicate toward the apex after anthesis;
ANTHERS linear, ca. 16 mm long, base sagittate, apex obtuse, fixed near the base;
POLLEN ellipsoidal, sulcate, exine reticulate, lumina rounded, muri narrowed;
STYLE distinctly exceeding the petals, white;
STIGMA conduplicate, spreading-contorted, densely papilose, white, blades ca. 4 mm long;
Alcantarea distractila is close related to A. extensa, but can be distinguished from it by the shorter leaf blades (43-45 vs. 80-100 cm long), the reduced number of branches of the inflorescence (2 to 4 vs. 8 to 9 in number), the lateral ones spreading-decurved with ascending apex, much longer (ca. 105 cm vs. to 65 cm long), flowers longer (13-14 cm vs. 9-11 cm long), and by the longer petals (ca. 11 cm vs. to 8 cm long).
The specific name of A. distractila refers to branches well apart from each other and so distinctly separated, on the basis of the Latin word "distractilis".
Alcantarea distractila was discovered forming large populations on almost vertical cliffs protected at their foothills by remaining Atlantic forest vegetation. It shares its habitat with other rupicolous bromeliad species, like Vriesea appariciana, as well as Tillandsia tenuifolia.