Neotropical Caricaceae

Daniela Zappi

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Trees or shrubs, often poorly branched and pachycaul, rarely herbs or climbers, trunk occasionally covered in spines, often laticiferous, latex transparent or whitish. Stipules normally present, sometimes transformed in spines. Leaves generally petiolate, glabrous, generally with foetid or rank smell, venation generally palmate, entire to deeply dissected, sometimes digitate to trifoliolate, sometimes peltate (in Jarrilla Rusby deltoid in outline), margin lobed, crenate or dentate, sometimes entire, base often cordate. Inflorescences axillary, cymose, racemose or paniculate, pedunculate or not, flowers sometimes solitary. Flowers hermaphrodite or unisexual in dioecious or polygamo-dioecious plants, hypogynous; calyx 5-merous, lobes free; corolla 5-merous, lobes fused or free, white, cream or greenish; stamens 5-10, free or fused to the corolla and/or adnate, anthers dehiscing longitudinally; ovary superior, unilocular and with parietal placentation or 5-locular and then axile placentation, many-ovuled, style present, generally stout. Fruit a large, green to orange, fleshy berry, indehiscent, many-seeded; seeds enveloped in mucilaginous pulp, testa verrucose, black, embryo straight, endosperm oily.

Notes on delimitation

  • Together with the Brassicaceae, the Caricaceae is currently placed within order Brassicales alongside Tropaeolaceae (APGII, 2003, Souza & Lorenzi 2005).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Represented by three genera and over 30 species widely distributed in the Neotropics.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Number of genera

  • Carica L., 22 species throughout the Neotropics, poorly branched trees to shrubs (Carica papaya L. widely cultivated for its edible fruit).
  • Jacaratia A.DC., 6 species in arid regions of the Neotropics, pachycaul trees sometimes with spiny branches, leaves digitate.
  • Jarrilla heterophylla I.M.Johnst., 1 species only found in Mexico, herbaceous, decumbent.

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to genera of Neotropical Caricaceae

1. Herbaceous, decumbent plants, with deltoid leaves .... Jarrilla
1. Shrubs or trees, self-supported, leaves never deltoid ... 2

2. Leaves entire to deeply lobed, branches smooth .... Carica
2. Leaves digitate to trifoliolate, branches often spiny.... Jacaratia

General notes

  • Carica papaya is an important food crop, especially in Northeastern Brazil. This species has two types of plants: one with many-flowered inflorecences comprising staminate and pistillate flowers, that sometimes produce an elongated fruit, and the other with pistillate, sessile flowers, producing abundant rounded fruits, known as Papaya, Mamão (Braz.) and Fruta-Bomba (Caribbean).

Important literature

APG II, 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436.

Gentry, A.H. 1996. A field guide to the families and genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

Souza, V.C. & Lorenzi, H. 2005. Botânica Sistemática: guia ilustrativo para identificação das famílias de Angiospermas da flora brasileira, baseado em APG II. Nova Odessa, Brazil: Instituto Plantarum.

Badillo, V.M. 1971. Monografia de la Familia Caricaceae. Universidad Central de Venezuela, Maracay.

How to cite

Zappi, D. (2009). Neotropical Caricaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.