Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Vanilla Leaf - Achlys triphylla



General Spreading by underground roots.[WildPNW]
Lifecycle Perennial.[PFAF][PCBC2004]
Flowers "Numerous small flowers are in a slender spike." [PSW] Spikes 2-5cm long.[IFBC][E-flora] White, lacking sepals and petals.[PCBC2004] Stamens 8-20mm long.[IFBC][E-flora]
Fruits reddish purple berries.[WildPNW] for ssp. triphylla, while ssp. californica[AKA. A. californica]; usually brownish.[PWOBC] Achenes. Very finely hairy.[PCBC2004] Crescent shaped.[HNW]
Leaves Single large pinnate leaf.[PSW] 3 leaflets.[HNW] On stalks 10-30cm long.[PCBC2004] 3-9 lobed.[IFBC][E-flora] "...with a somewhat fleshy to leathery thickened ridge."[IFBC][E-flora]
Root Slender rhizomes.[PCBC2004] Scaly.[HNW]
Properties The dried leaves release a vanilla smell.[WildPNW]
Habitat Moist forests.[PSW] Open or closed forests, lowland to montane.[IFBC][E-flora]
Range Western N. America - British Columbia to California.[PFAF] Common and locally abundant.[PCBC2004] SW BC, Vancouver Isl. and Gulf Islands.[IFBC][E-flora]
Status Native.[E-flora]
Ecological Indicator Shade-tolerant. "Plentiful on Vancouver Island, sparse on [the] coastal mainland. Most frequent on water-shedding and water-receiving sites; commonly associated with Polystichum munitum."[IPBC] [E-flora]
Similar Species 2 species in genus: western North America, Japan.[Jepson] "The distinction between Achlys triphylla and A. californica, which often coexist, is not sharp. Some botanists think that recognition of A. californica is not warranted."[PWOBC] "We are not convinced that A. californica is worthy of recognition." [IFBC][E-flora] The two North American species are chromosomally different, morphological separated by microscope, and one occupies well-drained, often open upland sites. The other... deeply shaded sites on low bottomland forests". [Klinkenberg][E-flora] Both A. triphylla and A. triphylla ssp. japonica showed a "chemotaxonomically close relationship".[IInuma et al.]

"The use of this plant as a fly repellent is Native American in origin.... Mid level validity as a fly repellent" [Lans et al., 2017]

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

"The plant was used by native North Americans to treat anumber of health problems, though it is little used in modern herbalism[257, 270]."[PFAF]


"Four new flavonol glycosides were isolated from the underground parts of Achlys triphylla in addition to eight known compounds." [Lans et al., 2017]


Listed Constituents (Roots)
  • kaempferol, [IInuma et al.]
  • isorhamnetin,[IInuma et al.]
  • vanillic acid, [IInuma et al.]
  • p-hydroxybenzoic acid,[IInuma et al.]
  • achlisocoumarins I (10) and IV, [IInuma et al.]
  • genistein, [IInuma et al.]
  • 3'-methylorbol [IInuma et al.]
  • Flavonol glycosides
    • isorhamnetin 3-O-P-D-glucopyranosyl-(1-3)-P-D-galactopyranoside [IInuma et al.]
    • isorhamnetin 3-glucosyl(1----3)galactoside [Mizuno et al.]
    • isorhamnetin 3-[6''acetylglucosyl(1----3)galactoside] [Mizuno et al.]
    • isorhamnetin 3-[46-di-acetylglucosyl(1----3)galactoside] [Mizuno et al.]
    • syringetin 3-[6''-acetylglucosyl(1----3)galactoside] [Mizuno et al.]


"A woodland plant, it requires a position in semi-shade and a humus-rich soil[280]."[PFAF]


"Seed - we have no information for this species, but it is probably best sown as soon as it is ripe in a shady part of a cold frame. If stored seed is used, it should be sown as soon as it is received. Germination can be erratic. Prick out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a shady part of a greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions during autumn or early winter. Division should be possible in early spring or just after flowering."[PFAF]

Achlys - Vanilla Leaf

Family: Berberidaceae - Barberry Family

"Perennial herb; rhizome scaly; caudex short, erect; wood, especially of roots, often yellow. Leaf: 1–few, basal, long-petioled, 1-ternate; leaflets triangular to fan-shaped, bases tapered. Inflorescence: ± scapose, spike, dense; lateral flowers generally unisexual, terminal bisexual. Flower: perianth 0; stamens (8)9(13), anther valves flap-like, curled inward; ovule 1, style 0, stigma ± flat, furrowed. Fruit: achene, curved, furrowed, brown to red-purple."

2 species: western North America, Japan. (Greek: thin mist or obscurity, from inconspicuous flowers) [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Achlys triphylla - Vanilla leaf [PCBC][TSFTK][E-flora]


Page last modified on Saturday, June 12, 2021 1:13 AM