Sweet after death (Achlys triphylla, Berberidaceae) gets its common name from the fragrant aroma that is released by its dead and dried leaves. This scent has been compared to vanilla, and as a result it’s also known as vanilla leaf. In spite of this comparison this perennial is unrelated to the true vanilla plant (Vanilla planifolia, Orchidaceae).
This plant is most easily recognized by its unique leaf arrangement. Three leaflets appear at the end of a single stem, and the center leaflet features three lobes. Between April and July each plant grows a second stem that bears a spike of tiny white flowers.
Sweet after death is found exclusively in the Cascades and coast ranges from British Columbia to northern California. This plant inhabits wet forests and stream margins up to about 5000 feet (1524 m) of elevation. The individual shown here was photographed in August near Box Canyon at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.