Achlys triphylla – Vanilla leaf
An herbaceous perennial which grows from rhizomes in moist areas in deep woods to forest openings.
At a glance
- Family: Berberidaceae
- Plant Type: Herb.
- Distribution: This plant grows from British Columbia to California, growing on both sides of the Cascades crest and at the coast in Washington.
- Height: This plant grows 8 to 16 inches (20 to 40 cm) in height.
- Flowers: Numerous white inconspicuous flowers grow in terminal, stalked, bractless spikes. The flowers lack sepals and petals and contain approximately 10 white stamens. A showy white upright spike approximately 1 to 3 inches (2 to 5 cm) in length and 1/2 of an inch (1 cm) in width grows above the leaves.
- Leaves: Basal leaves with 3 fan-shaped asymmetrical, coarsely blunt-toothed leaflets grow on petioles. The petioles are attached to the rhizome and are 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) in length. The leaf blades are 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm) in width.
- Fruits: Reddish-purple achenes are produced. The ventral side of the achene is concave with a prominent ridge and the dorsal surface is strongly convex. The achenes are less than 1/4 of an inch (3 to 4 mm) in length.
- Notable features: The word “Achlys” means ‘mist’ and is believed to describe the look of the tiny white flowers. The leaves emit a vanilla-like fragrance when dried.
Many Pacific Northwest tribes (including the Cowlitz, Lummi, Saanich, Skagit, and Nlaka’pamux) have taken an infusion of leaves to treat tuberculosis. A decoction of leaves has been used as a hair wash. An infusion of smashed plants has been taken as an emetic. The leaves have been dried and hung in houses as a repellent for flies and mosquitoes. A decoction of the plant has been used as a wash to remove lice, bedbugs, and other household pests.
- CNPS Calscape: https://calscape.org/loc-California/Achlys%20triphylla%20(Sweet%20After%20Death)?newsearch=1
- Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=Achlys
- Oregon State University Dept. of Botany & Plant Pathology – OregonFlora. https://oregonflora.org/taxa/garden.php?taxon=2417
- Pojar, J and MacKinnon, A. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Vancouver (BC): Lone Pine Publishing.
- Starflower Foundation Image Herbarium and Landscaping Pages, 2007.
- WTU Image Herbarium: https://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection/taxon.php?Taxon=Achlys%20triphylla
This article was written by Gerald B. Stanley. For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah Verlinde-Azofeifa at email@example.com.