Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla)

Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla)
Image by Catandrea via Flickr

Botanical Name : Achlys triphylla
Family : Berberidaceae
Subfamily: Berberidoideae tribe
Synonyms: Leontice triphylla – Sm.
Common Names: Sweet After Death,Vanilla Leaf
Genus :   Achlys

Habitat: Western N. AmericaBritish Columbia to California. Coniferous forests, usually in mountainous regions, at elevations up to 1500 metres. Woodland Garden; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge

Description:
Perennial growing to 0.4m.  This perennial plant 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.

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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.

Vanilla-leaf is a low-growing perennial herb that forms patches in the forest understory. The leaves are roundish in outline and divided into three lobes, with each lobe somewhat triangular or fan-shaped. The leaves are held almost horizontally with the flowering stem arising between them. The tiny flowers have no sepals or petals and appear white because of the 9-13 white stamens. The dried leaves smell like vanilla. Vanilla-leaf is common along moist forest edges and along streambanks at low to middle elevations.The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind. It blooms in April and May.It is hardy to zone 0.

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Cultivation :-
A woodland plant, it requires a position in semi-shade and a humus-rich soil.The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It requires moist soil.

Propagation:-
Seed – we have no information for this species, bu 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.

Medicinal Actions &  Uses
Emetic; Ophthalmic; TB.
The plant was used by native North Americans to treat anumber of health problems, though it is little used in modern herbalism. An infusion of the leaves was used in the treatment of tuberculosis and as an emetic. An infusion of the dry shredded roots was used to treat cataracts.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Other Uses
Hair; Repellent.

The leaves have been dried and hung in houses to repel flies and mosquitoes. A decoction of the plant has been used as a furniture and floor wash to get rid of lice, bedbugs and other household pests. An infusion of the leaves has been used as a hair wash.

Resources:
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Achlys+triphylla
http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ACTR
http://www2.ups.edu/faculty/kirkpatrick/fieldbotany/family_pages/Berberidaceae/achlys_triphylla.htm

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