Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Achlys triphylla

Sweet after death, Sweet-after-death, Vanilla leaf

Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Achlys triphylla (Sweet after death)
Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia
This perennial is a spreading ground cover. Large leaves, divided into three leaflets, rise at close intervals from underground runners and are long-lasting. Stalks, less than 8 in. high, produce numerous tiny, petalless, whitish flowers clustered together in a narrow, fluffy spike. Pairs of low slender stalks grow in patches, one stalk actually a petiole, having at its tip a round leaf blade with 3 broad, fan-shaped leaflets; the other stalk ending in a narrow spike of small white flowers. The dried plants have a vanilla fragrance.

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.

Image Gallery:

2 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Palmate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Flower: Stamens 3-4 mm
Fruit: Red-purple 3-4.5 mm
Size Class: 0-1 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul


Canada: BC
Native Distribution: S. B.C. to n.w. CA
Native Habitat: Moist, coastal forests; stream banks

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Moist, rich soils.
Conditions Comments: Vanilla leaf can crowd out other plants but does not compete well with more vigorous ground covers.


Use Medicinal: Medicinally, Native Americans used preparations of the leaves of Achlys triphylla to treat tuberculosis, for a hair wash, and as an emetic (D. E. Moermann 1986).
Interesting Foliage: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes

Last Update: 2007-01-01