Public Key Cryptography is technically known as asymmetric encryption, is a cryptographic system that uses pairs of keys: public keys which may be disseminated widely, and private keys which are known only to the owner. The generation of such keys depends on cryptographic algorithms based on mathematical problems to produce one-way functions. Effective security only requires keeping the private key private; the public key can be openly distributed without compromising security.
In such a system, any person can encrypt a message using the receiver’s public key, but that encrypted message can only be decrypted with the receiver’s private key.
Sources: CNSSI 4009, FIPS 140-2, InCommon Glossary