A species of flowering plant indigenous to South Africa first described in 1788 by English naturalist and botanist Joseph Banks. Widely cultivated for its dramatic flowers, it soon became one of the most popular houseplant.
The plant grows to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall, with large, strong leaves 25–70 cm (9.8–27.6 in) long and 10–30 cm (3.9–11.8 in) broad, produced on petioles up to 1 m (39 in) long. The leaves are evergreen and arranged in two ranks, making a fan-shaped crown. The flowers stand above the foliage at the tips of long stalks. The hard, beak-like sheath from which the flower emerges is termed the spathe. This is placed perpendicular to the stem, which gives it the appearance of a colourful exotic bird’s head and beak (hence the name); it makes a durable perch for holding the sunbirds which pollinate the flowers. The flowers, which emerge one at a time from the spathe, consist of three brilliant orange sepals and three purplish-blue or white petals. Two of the petals are joined together to form an arrow-like nectary. When the sunbirds sit to drink the nectar, the third petal opens to release the anther and cover their feet in pollen.