achlys-triphyllaAchlys (AK liss) The name of the Greek goddess daughter of Nyx (Night) who might be the first created being and personifies misery and sadness. Her name came from the Greek word meaning “mist” perhaps in reference to the Mist of Death that appears before dying. Hesiod describes her appearance on the shield of Heracles as dismal, dejected, green and pale, dust covered, emaciated, with long finger nails, a dripping nose, and bloody cheeks.

Achlys is the genus name for one or two species of herbaceous perennials native to western North America (Achlys triphylla and Achlys californica) and one species native to Japan.( Achlys japonica). The three species are very similar and authorities disagree on their relationship. They are all known as vanilla leaf and sweet after death, (because of the sweet vanilla scent of crushed leaves), as well as deer’s foot because of the arrangement of the three leaflets of each leaf. The genus is in the barberry family (Berberaceae) that also includes Oregon grape (Mahonia) and barrenworts (Epimedium andVancourveria ).

Achlys triphylla is twelve inches tall and has mid- to light green leaves two to three inches wide. The leaves are palmately compound with three leaflets that may be toothed or lobbed. In spring small white flowers are produced in a spike up to 2.75 inches long. The flowers lack petals and sepals but have eight to twenty long white stamens. . Plants are rhizomateous and form a dense ground cover in the moist shady forests of the Pacific Northwest.

By Karen