Rhizomatous, glabrous, large herbs; rhizome either short and tuberous or long-creeping, fleshy, subterranean, horizontal, sympodially branched, with distichous, membranous scales, and cylindrical roots, especially at the base of the shoots, rhizome scales to c. 1.5 cm long. Leaves: lamina large, ovate-elliptic, slightly asymmetric, petiole indistinct, base narrowed into the sheath to rounded, apex obtuse to acute, often shortly acuminate and/or ending in a filiform thread. Inflorescence sympodially branched or simple, with 1- or 2-flowered cincinni; primary bracts placed on the rachis at each node, basally completely enclosing the rachis, apically often ending in a filiform thread; branch bracts 2 at each branching point, placed at the base of the secondary rachis and both basally partially enclosing that rachis: one 2-keeled and placed between the rachis and the branch, apex sometimes ending in a short filiform thread; floral bracts spirally arranged on the branches, each subtending a cincinnus; bracteoles placed on the pedicel, each subtending one flower. Flowers red, orange, yellow, purple, or white, generally erect; sepals erect, narrowly triangular to narrowly obovate, acute to obtuse, persistent; petals mostly erect, narrowly ovate-triangular, cucullate, acute to acuminate; staminodes 1–4(–5), petaloid, sometimes 1 recurved, obovate to narrowly triangular, apex obtuse, acute, acuminate, or emarginate; stamen with 1 theca, connate for up to half of its length with the petaloid part of the stamen; pollen spherical, 55–77 μm diameter, inaperturate, wall provided with spinules; style firm and fleshy, connate for most of its length with the stamen, stigmatic areas 3, shaped as 2 callose strips along the edges of the apical part and 1 vertical row of papils, apex asymmetrically truncate. Fruit generally green, maturing brown, ellipsoid to obovoid, more or less trigonous; wall covered by soft tubercles; tubercles 1–2 mm long, maturing woody and shed with age. Seeds black to dark brown, globose to ellipsoid, very hard.
All over the Neotropics, from Virginia in the USA to northern Argentina.
At elevations between sea level and 3000 m; in shady, often wet places in forest, along rivers, or roadsides, also in secondary vegetation.