Aphelandra scabra is a shrub species that ranges from Southern Mexico to Northern South America and the West Indies. It is found mainly in seasonally dry forests along the Northern Pacific slope but it can also be found in some moist to wet forests. A. scabra is normally around 5 ft tall but it can grow taller. The leaves are simple, oppositely arranged on the stalk, and they are elliptical and entire with smooth or wavy margins.
The flowers of this plant can be red, pink, or purple red, up to 2 inch long, and tubular. They are 2-lipped, fuzzy and they bloom for one day before wilting. The A. scabra inflorescence is candle-like and the prepubescent flower spikes can grow up to 6 inch in height. The inflorescence has overlapping green bracts that are tinged with yellow and orange and they have extrafloral nectaries. Each day only one or two flowers open along the inflorescence to prevent self-pollination. The flowers have four fertile stamens and a slender stigma that is tucked into the upper lip of the flower. The flowers are hummingbird pollinated and the species protects its nectar behind a petal lip. When a visiting hummingbird arrives to feed on the nectar, the petal lip releases pollen down onto the head of the bird and it is carried away to pollinate another plant. The seed capsules are club-shaped,1 inch long capsules, and they contain four dark brown seeds. The seeds are flattened and irregular and they are dispersed ballistically, meaning they "explode". The fruit seed capsule splits along the sutures, which allow the fruit wall to change its shape rapidly and throw the seeds short distances.