These are shrubs and medium-sized trees (up to 18 m tall), native to tropical regions of the Americas, the West Indies, tropical Africa, Madagascar, tropical Asia, China and New Caledonia. Some authors restrict Genipa to being a New World genus, transferring the Old World species to other genera.
The ten species from Madagascar, originally described by Drake, are referred to as Genipa sensu Drake. They do not belong to the Rubiaceae subtribe Gardeniinae, as do the New World Genipa species; five of them belong in the tribe Octotropideae. The Genipa species sense Drake are better placed in the South African genus Hyperacanthus.
Its name is derived from genipapo, the Guiana name for one of its species. It is also commonly called 'xagua, xaqua, or jagua.
The tree bark is mostly smooth and gray. The dense foliage consists of opposite leaves that are sessile or with short peduncles. They are mostly clustered at the tips of the branches. The leathery leaves have an oblanceolate, elliptic or obovate shape. The ovate and acuminate stipules are interpetiolar, fused at base.
The inflorescence is axillary or terminal. The flowers are solitary or few in a cyme. They are at first white or creamy-white, but turn yellow later on. The flowers are sexually dimorphic; they can be bisexual or functionally unisexual. The male flowers ripen before the female flowers. The short, tubular calyx has five or six small lobes. The bell-shaped corolla consists of five symmetrical left-contorted oblong petals, rounded at their apex. The stamens lie between the corolla lobes, exserting for half their length. The style projects beyond the corolla. The inferior ovary is 2-locular, with many ovules per locule. The fruit is a succulent berry with a thick rind, the size of a small lime.
This genus is closely allied to Gardenia. Several Gardenia species were originally named as Genipa species.