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Achlys triphylla (Sweet after death)
Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia

Achlys triphylla

Achlys triphylla (Sm.) DC.

Sweet After Death, Sweet-after-death, Vanilla Leaf

Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)

Synonym(s): Achlys triphylla ssp. triphylla


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

2 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Palmate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Margin: Entire
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Fruit Type: Follicle
Size Notes: Up to about 8 inches tall.
Flower: Stamens 3-4 mm
Fruit: Red-purple 3-4.5 mm

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


Description: Propagate by root divisions or by seed.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR


Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Achlys triphylla in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Achlys triphylla in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Achlys triphylla


Record Modified: 2007-01-01
Research By: TWC Staff

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