Current efforts to grow the tropical oilseed crop Jatropha curcas L. economically are hampered by the lack of cultivars and the presence of toxic phorbol esters (PE) within the seeds of most provenances. These PE restrict the conversion of seed cake into animal feed, although naturally occurring ‘nontoxic’ provenances exist which produce seed lacking PE. As an important step towards the development of genetically improved varieties of J. curcas, we constructed a linkage map from four F2 mapping populations. The consensus linkage map contains 502 codominant markers, distributed over 11 linkage groups, with a mean marker density of 1.8 cM per unique locus. Analysis of the inheritance of PE biosynthesis indicated that this is a maternally controlled dominant monogenic trait. This maternal control is due to biosynthesis of the PE occurring only within maternal tissues. The trait segregated 3 : 1 within seeds collected from F2 plants, and QTL analysis revealed that a locus on linkage group 8 was responsible for phorbol ester biosynthesis. By taking advantage of the draft genome assemblies of J. curcas and Ricinus communis (castor), a comparative mapping approach was used to develop additional markers to fine map this mutation within 2.3 cM. The linkage map provides a framework for the dissection of agronomic traits in J. curcas, and the development of improved varieties by marker-assisted breeding. The identification of the locus responsible for PE biosynthesis means that it is now possible to rapidly breed new nontoxic varieties.