Achlys triphylla (Sm.) DC.
vanilla-leaf (deer foot; sweet after death)
Berberidaceae (Barberry family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants


© Gary Ansell     (Photo ID #12945)


E-Flora BC Static Map

Distribution of Achlys triphylla
Click here to view the full interactive map and legend

Species Information

Deciduous perennial herb from a slender rhizome, spreading; aerial stems absent but single leaves are sent up along the rhizome.
Basal, palmately compound with 3 leaflets, blades fan-shaped, 3-9 lobed, deciduous, with a vanilla-like fragrance when dry.
Inflorescence in compact spikes, 2-5 cm long; sepals and petals lacking; stamens white, 8-20 mm long.
Achenes dark brown to reddish-purple, 3-4 mm long, finely hairy, with a somewhat fleshy to leathery thickened ridge.
Recently some taxonomists (e.g., Williams 1993, Kartesz 1994) have recognized a second species (A. californica) in western North America. The latter is characterized by having a central leaflet with 6-8 lobes, whereas A. triphylla has a central leaflet with 3 lobes. Examination of herbaria material reveals that many sheets have mixed collections of plants with central leaflets with both 3 lobes (actually the 3-lobed ones usually have 2 additional, much smaller lobes, on the sides) and 7-9 lobes. This has also been noted in the field. At this time, we are not convinced that A. californica is worthy of recognition.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


If more than one illustration is available for a species (e.g., separate illustrations were provided for two subspecies) then links to the separate images will be provided below. Note that individual subspecies or varietal illustrations are not always available.


Ecological Framework for Achlys triphylla

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres)
329 0 1338
Slope Gradient (%)
18 0 130

Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]

281 0 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
4 0 7
Modal Nutrient Regime
# of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class

All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in

CDF(111), CWH(908), ESSF(1), ICH(1), IDF(29), MH(5)

Habitat and Range

Moist to mesic open or closed forests in the lowland and montane zones; frequent in SW BC; known from Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the adjacent lower mainland; S to NW CA.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Synonyms and Alternate Names:
Achlys californica I. Fukuda & H.G. Baker
Achlys triphylla subsp. triphylla

Taxonomic Notes

According to Brayshaw (1989), this species in North America consists of two types with different chromosome numbers. One is diploid (2n=12) and "occupies well-drained, often open upland sites. The other [type] is tetraploid (2n=24)...and tends to occupy deeply shaded sites on low bottomland forests". While there are morphological differences, Brayshaw indicates that the important separating characters--stomatal size-- are not easily visible and require a microscope for examination.

Note author: R. Klinkenberg July 17, 2009.