Friday, November 11, 2011

Counting on Fibonacci

Last week I reviewed Swirl by Swirl, a book about spirals in nature. Continuing on the theme of math patterns in nature ... a long time ago mathematicians noticed that certain numbers show up in nature over and over again. Lilies have three petals. Shadbush and wild roses have five.

The math guys got excited because these numbers belong to a special series called the Fibonacci sequence, and they found them everywhere they looked. Starfish? Five arms. An octopus? Eight. Daisies? Thirteen petals or, in some cases, 21.

The Fibonacci sequence begins like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …. And there is definitely a pattern.* If you look around, you can find Fibonacci numbers. Cut open a cucumber or tomato and you find three seed cavities. Slice a pear cross-wise and you get that five-armed star shape – each of those arms is where seeds develop. Red pines have pairs of needles while white pines have clusters of five.

Of course, not everything grows in a Fibonacci pattern; mustards have four petals and star flowers have seven.

*(hint: 1 + 1 = 2; 1 + 2 = 3; 2 + 3 = ?)

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