Papaya is a short-lived perennial growing to 30 ft (9.14 m) high. Its hollow, herbaceous stem is usually unbranched. The deeply lobed, palmate leaves are borne on long, hollow petioles emerging from the stem apex. Flowers occur in leaf axils. Older leaves die and fall as the tree grows.
Papaya flowers are fragrant and have five cream-white to yellow-orange petals 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5.1 cm) long. The stigmatic surfaces are pale green, and the stamens are bright yellow.