The papaya is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, the sole species in the genus Carica of the plant family Caricaceae. It is native to the tropics of the Americas, perhaps from southern Mexico and neighbouring Central America. It was first cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classical civilizations.
The papaya is a large, tree-like plant, with a single stem growing from 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) tall, with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the trunk. The lower trunk is conspicuously scarred where leaves and fruit were borne. The leaves are large, 50–70 cm (20–28 in) in diameter, deeply palmatelylobed, with seven lobes. Unusually for such large plants, the trees are dioecious. The tree is usually unbranched, unless lopped. The flowers are similar in shape to the flowers of the Plumeria, but are much smaller and wax-like. They appear on the axils of the leaves, maturing into large fruit – 15–45 cm (5.9–17.7 in) long and 10–30 cm (3.9–11.8 in) in diameter. The fruit is ripe when it feels soft (as soft as a ripe avocado or a bit softer) and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue.