Identification & Description:
Vanilla is an attractive perennial with single, long-petiolate, ternate (3 leaflets) leaves which are fan-shaped with coarsely-toothed leaf edges. The leaf blade is roughly 5-20 cm wide, with the whole leaf ranging from 10-30 cm long. Dry leaves smell of vanilla.
The flower stem is separate from the leaf and ranges from 20-40 cm tall. The apex of the stem has a dense spike (2.5-5 cm long) of tiny white flowers with no petals nor sepals.
An erect, stout perennial that grows to 2 to 3 feet in height. Basal leaves are large, smooth, spatula-like, with stem-clasping leaves diminishing as they ascend the stem. Leaves are alternate. Foliage is vanilla-scented. Flowers are in flat-topped purplish clusters.
Vanilla Leaf is a beautiful plant that spreads quickly by rhizomes to carpet the shady understory. The large, clover like leaves have fluttering scallops along the edges. Tiny white flowers form on the on thin, erect stalks. Dried leaves smell heavenly, like vanilla, and are said to repel insects. They remain on the plant as “skeletons” throughout the winter and are as delicate as fairy wings. Vanilla Leaf is found from BC to northern California and is hardy from USDA zones 7-9. It prefers shaded, moist sites with some shade. It is an excellent companion to the delicate Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), and fits perfectly in the understory of Thimbleberry or Salmonberry (Rubus parvifloris or spectabilis) or even the Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale).
Vanilla leaf may be found from British Columbia from the eastern base of the Cascades west to the coast, and south to Sherman and Wasco counties, Oregon, and south on the western side of the Cascades of Oregon to northwestern California.
In the Columbia River Gorge, it may be found east of Troutdale, OR to approximately adjacent to Hood River, OR. It may be found in the gorge between the elevations of 100′-4800′.