Image: Mack Hall
What looks to us like a beautiful purple coneflower (echinacae purpurae)
We’ve all noticed beautiful patterns in nature: the clouds in the sky, rocks in a river, or waves in the ocean. Yet while some patterns seem random – the different colored flowers in a field, say – others are much less so – like the way the seeds are arranged in certain flower heads. In fact, it’s here that nature and mathematics intersect in a way that makes us wonder if everything in nature isn’t organized in a strictly mathematical way.
Here we’re going to be talking about the Fibonacci sequence in nature, with a little floral illustration to help guide us along. Follow us on a journey that will see us examine some ordinary flowers such that they suddenly appear extra-ordinary.
This ladybug doesn’t seem to mind the spiky qualities of the coneflower head it’s on. Or maybe it’s simply mesmerized by the flower’s symmetry!
The Fibonacci sequence (pronounced fib-on-arch-ee) got its name from a mathematician of the Middle Ages, Leonardo of Pisa (c. 1170 – c. 1250). The alias “Fibonacci” is most likely the shortened form of the Latin “filius Bonacci,” meaning “son of Bonaccio,” for his father’s name was Guglielmo Bonaccio.
Flower head with what looks like shades of the Fibonacci sequence
Though Leonardo was originally from Pisa, his father Guglielmo worked as kind of a customs official in what is today the Algerian town of Béjaïa. Through his schooling in North Africa, interaction with merchants, and travels around the Mediterranean, young Leonardo got acquainted with arithmetic and the Hindu-Arabic number system. He soon found that the Arabic symbols 0 through 9 were far superior to – and user-friendlier than – the then-commonly used Roman numerals (I, V, X, and so on).