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Vanilla Leaf Achlys triphylla


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Vanilla Leaf
credit: Walter Siegmund/CCSA

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Alternate name: Sweet-after-death

Family: Berberidaceae, Barberry view all from this family

Description Common in the deep conifer forests of the West Coast, this plant has frothy white flower spikes above tripartite leaves.
Habit: native perennial herb; two slender, wiry stems, one actually the petiole of a single large leaf, the other ending in a narrow spike of small white flowers; mat-forming.
Height: 8-16 in (20-40 cm).
Leaf: large, round, palmately compound in 3 leaflets; leaflets broad, fan-shaped, edges wavy or toothed, 2-8 in (5-20 cm) wide;
Flower: minute white flowers, held in dense, narrow, upright terminal spike, 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) high.
Fruit: half-moon shaped, red-purple, to .2 in (4.5 mm) long.

Flower April to June.

Flower April - July

Habitat Streambanks, moist areas in undisturbed mountain coniferous forests; to 5000 ft (1500 m); also grown as an ornamental groundcover.

Range Native to British Columbia to California, from the Cascade Range and Coast Range to the coast.

Discussion Also known as sweet after death. When dried, the leaves smell like vanilla. The large, 3-part leaf is unusual, like that of its only close relative, California Vanilla Leaf (A. californica), found nearer the coast, but which generally has 6-8 (rarely up to 12) teeth on the central leaflet.

Comments Vanilla leaf can crowd out other plants but does not compete well with more vigorous ground covers.

Exposure Preference Shade.

Native Distribution S. British Columbia to n.w. California

Site Preference Moist, coastal forests; stream banks

Soil Preference Moist, rich soils.