The papaya plant has an erect branch-less trunk 6-20 ft tall, and a palmlike head of foliage at the top. The trunk remains somewhat succulent and soft wooded, and never develops true bark. It is ringed with prominent scars from previous leaf stems and contains an acrid milky latex sap.
The leaves are deeply incised and lobed, up to 24 in across and borne on 24 in petioles. The five-petal flowers are fleshy, waxy, and fragrant. There are three different tree types, female plants, male plants, and bisexual plants. The female and bisexual plants are the only ones that produce fruit.
Depending on the tree type, this fruit is small to medium round or medium to large oblong shape. Fruit flesh is generally yellow, although some red and orange types exist as well.