A Vanilla Leaf

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A few weeks ago, I was walking with one of my Meetup groups at the Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley, and I noticed that one of the ladies was holding two large leaves in her hand.  I asked her about the leaves, and she told me that they were known as ‘Vanilla Leaf.’

“This Vanilla Leaf plant, when hung in your closet, will provide a ‘vanilla’ fragrance that will last for up to a year,” she said, adding, “my son is a horticulturist, and he confirmed this.” tried

I was interested in learning more about this leaf, but the lady who showed it to me had already gone ahead to catch up with her friends.  But as she waved back at us, she shouted, “They are difficult to find but worth the search!”

I should have asked her to let me smell the leaf.  But I forgot.

So, for the remainder of that walk, my eyes scanned the forest for this leaf.  I wanted to pick one to see if it had a vanilla fragrance.

I made a mental note to Google the leaf when I got home.  But I forgot.

A few days later, on a walk with the Vancouver ‘Venturers walking club at Central Park, in Burnaby, I asked my friends if they had ever heard of ‘vanilla leaf?’  But none of them had heard of the plant, either.

So, my eyes tried to search for this elusive leaf during the walk in the woods.  But the mental image I had of the plant was fading, so once again,  I made a mental note to Google the leaf when I got home.  But I forgot.

That weekend, on Thanksgiving Sunday, I walked the 10 km around the Stanley Park seawall, so I didn’t bother trying to search for the leaf.  But I did remember to ask my fellow walkers if any of them had heard of the ‘vanilla leaf,’ but none had.

Once again, I made a mental note to Google the leaf when I got home.  But once again, I forgot.

The very next day, my buddy Reg Dutton and I went to the Surrey Trekkers walk at Mundy Park in Coquitlam.  We decided to do the 5 km route but got lost a few times and ended up walking for 8 kms.  And all along the way, I was searching for the leaf.  But I didn’t find any.  Reg Dutton had never heard of it, and he’s walked in every national park in the USA and Canada!

“Maybe, I should Google the leaf and print an image of the leaf, when I get home,” I thought. But I forgot.

I realized that this leaf was becoming an obsession.

My next attempt to find this leaf was yesterday when I did the Aldergrove Regional Park walk, with the Abbotsford Walking, Hiking, and More Group.  I always enjoy walking with a group.  I met Beverly and Darlene earlier in the year when I first walked at this park.  Yesterday, I met Mary for the first time.  It was pouring rain, but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

During our walk, I explained my recent obsession with the elusive vanilla leaf.  Had my gal pals heard of it?  They said they hadn’t.

Finally, I noticed a plant that had leaves similar to what I remembered (Yes, Spanky, I forgot to Google the image), but when we picked one, it didn’t smell like vanilla.  I told Darlene that I was going to do a Google search when I get home.  Darlene said that she would also search.

When I got home yesterday morning, I Googled ‘vanilla leaf’ and found it in Wikipedia.  It included an image and description.  Here’s the photo:

Vanilla Leaf (Achlys_triphylla_1033)                                Photo by Wikipedia

My walking friends are probably wondering why I’m so obsessed with this leaf.  It’s the little child inside all of us that likes to learn new stuff.  Right?

So, I’m offering this challenge to my readers:

  1. Print a copy of the vanilla leaf photo.  Here is a link to the Wikipedia source that I used: Vanilla Leaf Photo
  2. Search the forests and shorelines for the vanilla leaf.   However, you will only find this plant in the Western States (Washington, Oregon, NW California) and British Columbia.  It is also in Japan.
  3. If you find the plant – pick a couple of leaves – a few for you and a few for me.
  4. The first person who shows me proof of their find will win something special – and priceless!

By the way, this leaf is also known as deer’s foot, and sweet after death, referring to the smell of the crushed leaves.

So, there’s no excuse for you sitting at home watching reruns of Seinfeld – get out and do yourself a favor – walk and enjoy the outdoors.  And if you walk with the Abbotsford Walking/Hiking and More Meetup Group – be sure to do the Aldergrove Park walk with Beverly.  She will be pleased to take a silhouette photo of you and the others, like the one shown of Darlene, Mary, and me.  (Thanks, Beverly!)

Meanwhile, I’ll be walking and searching for the leaf in the Campbell Valley Regional Park (by myself) later today.  Wish me luck!

UPDATE (October 25, 2019):  One of my gal pals sent me an email shortly after I posted this story.  She wrote that this is one of her favorite native plants, and she had them in the garden of her previous home.  She also wrote the following:

“FYI, as it is a perennial, it likely has withered away by now. That’s weird that that lady found it, so maybe they haven’t all completely withered away. Look for it in the spring! It likes the shade and blooms from March to June, but its main attractant is the large leaves, which are only fragrant if dried and crushed. They are more common on Vancouver Island than here on the Lower Mainland. You shouldn’t pick the leaves unless there’s a large clump of them, as the plant may not survive, otherwise.”

I replied that I wouldn’t pick any from the wild because I don’t want to disturb Nature – but how does one acquire this plant for their garden?

My gal pal replied:

“As far as planting, the biggest challenge may be finding it in a nursery. Not to be taken from the wild. Phoenix Perennials in Richmond may have it, or I’ve heard the UBC Botanical Garden gift shop carries native plants that are the best for the environment. Then one plants it in a shady/semi-shady spot. And keep it moist its first growing season. It should then be drought tolerant after that.”

My gal pal is shy and preferred that I not publish her name.  But I am thankful that the mystery surrounding this plant has finally been solved and have decided to end the challenge and declare my gal pal, the winner!  I hope that she’ll accept the ‘priceless prize’ of being my best friend forever!

I also heard from several others, including Beverly.  I had forgotten that she had said that she was familiar with the plant and that it only grows in the Spring.

So, if you can’t find answers to your most pressing questions – ask Danny.  I might not know the answer, but I probably have a walker friend who does!

Dedicated to Beverly, Mary, Darlene, and my shy, Best Friend Forever



Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):


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About Post Author

Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).
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