Main conclusion: The variability in nutrient content and morphology in Gynandropsis gynandra is associated with the geographic origin of the accessions and provides a basis for breeding for higher levels of vitamin C, carotenoids or tocopherols in higher-yielding cultivars.We examined the variation in carotenoids, tocopherols and ascorbic acid as well as morphological traits in a worldwide germplasm of 76 accessions of the orphan leafy vegetable Gynandropsis gynandra (Cleomaceae) using greenhouse experiments and high-performance liquid chromatography analysis. The levels of carotenoids and tocopherols accumulating in the leaves varied significantly across accessions and were linked with the geographical origin and morphological variation. The main carotenoids included lutein, β-carotene, α-carotene and violaxanthin. A twofold to threefold variation was observed for these compounds. The main tocopherols detected were α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol with a 20-fold variation. A ninefold variation in vitamin C concentration and independent of geographical origin was observed. Overall, the accessions were grouped into three clusters based on variation in nutrient content and morphology. West African accessions were short plants with small leaves and with high tocopherol contents and relatively low carotenoid contents, Asian accessions were short plants with broad leaves and with relatively low carotenoid and high tocopherol contents, while East–Southern African plants were tall with high contents of both carotenoids and chlorophylls and low tocopherol contents. Carotenoids were positively correlated with plant height as well as foliar and floral traits but negatively correlated with tocopherols. The absence of a significant correlation between vitamin C and other traits indicated that breeding for high carotenoids or tocopherols content may be coupled with improved leaf yield and vitamin C content. Our study provides baseline information on the natural variation available for traits of interest for breeding for enhanced crop yield and nutrient content in Gynandropsis gynandra.