Spinach Tree, Tread Softly, Cabbage Star, Chaya

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius

Family: Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Cnidoscolus (nye-DOS-ko-lus) (Info)
Species: aconitifolius (a-kon-eye-tih-FOH-lee-us) (Info)
Synonym:Jatropha aconitifolia




Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun



Foliage Color:



6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)


8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)


USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction

Bloom Color:

White/Near White

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Blooms all year

Blooms repeatedly

Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From herbaceous stem cuttings

From woody stem cuttings

From softwood cuttings

From semi-hardwood cuttings

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Tempe, Arizona

Irvine, California

Brooksville, Florida

Clearwater, Florida(2 reports)

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Deland, Florida

Delray Beach, Florida

Fort Lauderdale, Florida(3 reports)

Hollywood, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida(2 reports)

Land O' Lakes, Florida

Largo, Florida

Lecanto, Florida

Lithia, Florida

Lutz, Florida

Melbourne, Florida

Melbourne Beach, Florida

Merritt Island, Florida

Miami, Florida

New Port Richey, Florida

Odessa, Florida

Orlando, Florida

Palm Bay, Florida

Port Richey, Florida

Port Saint Lucie, Florida

Rockledge, Florida

Saint Petersburg, Florida

Stuart, Florida

Tampa, Florida(2 reports)

Wauchula, Florida

Weston, Florida

Zephyrhills, Florida

Austin, Texas

Leming, Texas

Pflugerville, Texas

San Antonio, Texas

Christiansted, Virgin Islands

Newell, West Virginia

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Sep 20, 2019, AnnieMee77 from New Port Richey,
United States wrote:

It grows super-easy but it's important to know some things about this plant. I just moved a papaya-leaf chaya and got stung by it. I couldn't figure out why my arm felt like I'd been stung by fire ants, so I came inside, washed my arm, took allergy pills and THEN did a search for chaya. Sure enough, this plant can sting you and cause an allergic reaction.

It's also important to note that this plant produces latex so be careful if you're allergic to foods that have latex.

Raw leaves are toxic but safe to eat when cooked.

Chaya is very nutritious but must not be cooked or stored in aluminum.

From what I've learned about chaya, I will grow it and I'll add some of the leaves to my greens but I will use it cautiously.


On Feb 15, 2018, kilaria from Newell, WV wrote:

I actually bought a small cutting of this in downtown NYC about 10 years ago. It had no label so just let it grow indoors during the winter and set it out during the summer. The plant is huge now and I have been propagating it since it makes a lovely indoor tree - quite happy here in West Virginia. I have not tried to eat any part of it - just like the way it grows and the design of the leaf.


On Nov 11, 2015, azsilvia from Tempe, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

Chaya Spinach as it's called here can get 8-10 feet tall in one season if planted early enough and not pruned. It can take extreme heat with adequate water. Appreciates afternoon shade here in summer. I've seen zero pests. Flowers a good part of the year and attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Start cuttings in a sandy mix not our native clay as they can rot with too much water. It is frost tender so will get damage in light frost or freeze back to the main stem if not covered in heavier frosts here. I have the Mansa Maple leaf variety and it has no stinging parts so is easy to handle. There is another variety the Papaya/Star/Estrella variety but I have no experience with that type. Leaves are easy to harvest for meals without stinging but avoid touching the white sap which... read more


On May 3, 2012, Nefitara from Port Richey, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

I live in Zone 9b FL and it loves it here! This plant is unique and beautiful, I'm so glad I came across it at the park! Nothing but good things to say about it.


On Aug 23, 2011, dave2daves from Cutler, FL wrote:

Here is what people need to know about Chaya Tree Spinach for beginners. This tradtional "Mayan greens" shrub has extensive history and use well warranted by its exceptional nutritional value and culinary flavor. However there are some dangers in handling this plant well worth noting as I learned the hard way.
There are 2 Chaya varieties commonly available here in the states. The "Papaya leaf" variety and a rounder "Lobate leaf" variety. This is the easiest classification since there are so many different names for these, chayamansa, actinifolia, Cnidoscolus, rodunda, picata, etc. Here is my overall comparison from experience.
Papaya Leaf- tastier, meatier leaf, dark green, perhaps more nutritional also. Collard green like in texture and flavor.
... read more


On Oct 2, 2009, ChayaMan from Largo, FL wrote:

LONG but worth it! ('scuse the caps - sub-headings only, not shouting!)

* First of all, if you have an allergy to, or are sensitive to latex, wear gloves when harvesting! Chaya is a copious producer of latex. When harvesting, start from the bottom and work upwards, so the latex will not drip onto the leaves you are picking - this saves you the effort of trying to scrub dried latex from your dinner!
* When harvesting, pick the leaves from the stems, breaking the leaf off at the petiole; breaking stems off the stalk may damage the stalk and hinder new leaf production.
* If, during harvesting or any other time, you happen to break a branch, don't despair! Stick it in some dirt and you will quickly have another plant!
* ... read more


On Jan 17, 2008, Cambium from Lamar, AR (Zone 7b) wrote:

Why is the synonym of this Jatropha? I question that although the leaves do look similar but not the flowers nor growth pattern. This is also somewhat similar to Cnidoscolus chayamansa also known as Chaya.

I love this small tree. It has a gorgeous shape & is fast growing into a bush or shaped more like a small tree. Butterflies are always on it & it has blooms all the time. It seems there may be 2 kinds of the bush. One with rounded or pointed palmate leaves. Mine are the pointed, as the pictures here show.

Several sites say that if you fully boil the leaves 1 minute the toxins are removed (much like a lot of wildfoods). Of course I don't recommend other people to try wildfoods because they may have different reactions but I enjoy them. I plucked several l... read more

Editor's Note

The synonym of Jatropha aconitifolia can be easily confirmed by looking through numerous other websites and references, including the USDA's PLANTS Database, ARS/GRIN, etc.


On Jul 20, 2007, Delisa from Wildwood, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Zebra Longwings love this plant!


On Dec 10, 2006, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I recently got a rooted cutting from this plant from a friend that grows it. She echoed the comments above -- that it is one of the best butterfly attractors in her garden and that the plant is very easy to root from cuttings. I am looking forward to growing it.

In regard to ArtCons note that the plant leaves may cause skin irritation, this plant is in the same genus (Cnidoscolus) as Stinging Nettle (Cnidoscolus stimulosus), so it probably has some of the same small hairs that can cause burning and itching on contact.

When I first saw this plant in my friend's yard, I presumed it was a Jatropha, and I see above in the alternate botanical name that the taxonomists also seemed to think it was a Jatropha at one time. The leaves are very similar in shape to Jat... read more


On Feb 20, 2005, artcons from Fort Lauderdale, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

The Chaya, or Spinach Tree has been a favorite of mine since day one. I currently have two growing here. One has been moved from my S fence to just on the North side of the fence around my pool. It showed no signs of damage from the move and it was a mature bush almost 6' tall when I moved it. The tree had a few flowers on it before the move. It didn't loose them after I moved it.

The second tree, which was my original from a cutting at Universal Studio's, will be three years old this summer. It is currently about 6-7'. I will keep it around 10' this year. At that height I can get close to the butterflies that frequent the tree so I can take pictures of them.

The tree has a tight canopy that doesn't permit much light through to the ground, so it can be used ... read more


On Mar 19, 2004, hawkarica from Odessa, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

I live in the Tampa area and have been growing this plant for 4 years. It will take a light freeze but 28 degrees or so will kill everything above the ground. It does come back rapidly in the spring but as a multi-stemmed bush. It will attract aphids and mealy bugs so you must keep an eye on it. Mine seems to grow to about eight feet and flowers most of the year. It is very easy to propagate from stem cuttings. Soil pH from 5.5 to 6.5 works best. I have had no chlorosis from mineral deficiencies. The foliage is attractive and the white flower spikes contrast well with its dark green color. Give it plenty of space and lots of sun and you will enjoy this plant.