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Perfect Math in Nature

Suat Namli

2002-10-01 00:00:00

Although many Qur'anic verses encourage us to search for God's art in nature, probably few of us have ever taken the time to do so. For example, how many of us have ever analyzed the number or arrangement of a flower's petals? If we were to do so, we would discover that the number of petals is usually one of the Fibonacci numbers.(1)

In this article, we will delve a little deeper into this magnificent miracle of God: the mathematics of nature.


For example, look at the pictures given below. For 1-petalled flowers, we offer white calla lilies; for 2-petalled flowers, we offer the very rare euphorbia; and for 3-petalled flowers trilliums, lilies, and irises.

<cellpadding="15" cellspacing="15">White Calla Lilly




Did you ever wonder why 4-petalled flowers are so rare, and why everyone gets excited when they find a 4-leaf clover? The reason for this is because such flowers are very rare, for 4 is not a Fibonacci number. Some violets and bluets also have 4 petals.










Flowers with 5 petals are rather common. Among them are buttercups, wild roses, larkspurs, and columbines.






Examples of 8-petalled flowers are bloodroots and delphiniums. Examples of 13-petalled flowers are ragworts, corn marigolds, and cinerarias; those with 21 petals are daisies, asters, and chicories; and those with 34 petals are oxeye daisies, sunflowers, plantains, and pyrethrums.






Black-eyed susan







Oxeye daisy


Some families of daisies, such as the michaelmas daisies from the asteraceae family, have 55 and 89 petals.

Seed and flower heads

The echinacea purpura is a member of the daisy family native to the Illinois prairie. You can see in Figure 1 that the orange œpetals seem to form spirals curving both to the left and to the right. At the edge of the picture, if you count those spiraling to the right as you go outwards, you will notice that there are 55 spirals (a Fibonacci number). A little further toward the center, you can count 34 spirals (another Fibonacci number). If you count the spirals going the other way, you will see that the pair of numbers (counting the spirals curving toward the left and toward the right) are neighbors in the Fibonacci number series.

The same happens in many seeds and flower heads, among them sunflower seeds, daisies, pineapples, and pine cones. The reason for this is that such an arrangement packs the optimal number of seeds so that no matter how large the seed head is, the seeds are always packed uniformly at any stage. As they are the same size in any given area, there is no crowding in the center and no scarcity at the edges.

The spirals form a pattern: The œcurvier ones

appear near the center, while the flatter ones, which are more numerous, appear the further out you go. Thus the number of spirals we see in either direction differs according to the size of the flower's head. On a large flower head, we see more spirals further out than we do near the center. The numbers of spirals in each direction are (almost always) neighboring Fibonacci numbers!



Let's observe the spirals in these beautiful arts of the Infinite Artist. Consider the daisy. In the close-packed arrangement of tiny florets in the daisy blossom's core, you can see the phenomenon in an almost two-dimensional form. As shown in Figure 2 there are 21 (a Fibonacci number) counterclockwise spirals and 34 (another Fibonacci number) logarithmic or equiangular spirals. In any daisy, the combination of counterclockwise and clockwise spirals generally consists of successive terms in the Fibonacci sequence.

The Math Behind It

Botanists have shown that plants grow from a single tiny group of cells right at the tip of any branch or twig belonging to a growing plant or tree. This tip is called the meristem. They grow in size after their formation, but new cells are formed only at such growing points. Cells further down the stem expand, and thus cause the growing point to rise. This means that a growing plant produces seeds at the flower's center, and that those seeds then push the other seeds outward. Each seed settles into a location that turns out to have a specific constant angle of rotation relative to the previous seed. This constant rotation forms the spirals.

Consider the following case. There are n seeds in the arrangement. The nearest seed is seed 1, the next one is seed 2, and so on. If each seed has an area of 1, we have a total area of n and a circle with a radius of from the area formula (Area= ). Given this, the distance from the center to each seed is proportional to the square root of its seed number. If we call this angle alpha, the angle of seed k will be alpha*k. So we can easily describe the location of any seed in polar coordinates with and theta=k*alpha.

If we chose an angle of 0.15 (54A) the result will be far better. But we will be done again after 20 seeds, for 20*0.15=3, so after 3 complete turns we will be back on the same line. If we choose 0.48, which is a little bit better than 0.15, we will come back to the original line in 25 rotations.

Therefore, speaking logically, if we choose an irrational number we will not return to the original line. Of course we will get close to it, since every irrational number has some kind of rational approximation. In nature, we mostly observe the so-called golden ratio, an irrational (1.618 = ), which is the root of the equation , which is the limit of the ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers.

With this angle of rotation, each seed is rotated approximately 1.618 revolutions from the previous seed (i.e., 0.618 revolutions or 0.618*360=222.5A). Notice how well distributed the seeds appear; for there is no clumping and very little wasted space. Although the pattern grows quite large, the distances between neighboring seeds appear to stay constant. In nature, you can see that plants grow their seeds simply where there is the most room.

It is really amazing that a single fixed angle can produce the optimal design no matter how large the plant becomes. For example, once a leaf's angle is fixed, that leaf will œdo its best not to obscure the leaves below and œdo its best not to be obscured by any leaves that will grow above it. Similarly, once a seed is positioned on a seed head, the new seeds continue to push the older ones out in a straight line. However, it retains the seed head's original angle. The seeds will always be packed uniformly on the seed head regardless of the head's size. The principle that a single angle produces uniform packing no matter how much growth appears thereafter was proved mathematically only in 1993 by the French mathematicians Douady and Couder.

We frequently observe the golden ration in nature. In addition, we can try flowers and flowers, at least mathematically and as models.


We look at nature and see God's creation. Most people just look at the general design, but others also study the seeds and their designs. As the Qur'an's first verse tells us to œRead, in the sense of reading the signs in nature (the Qur'an was revealed to a largely illiterate people who had no significant body of written literature), we should understand this as an indication to analyze nature.

As a mathematician, I see that God has arranged everything in nature according to a mathematical order. He puts the maximum number of seeds in a minimum area. Bees use hexagons to store the maximum amount of honey in a minimal space. This fact is even mentioned in Qur'an 16:68: Your Lord revealed to the bee. Those who believe in evolution say that the picture is very clear. But there is a great art in front of us, one which is very well balanced and in perfect accord with mathematical harmony. This shows that there is no luck or chance in the world, and that everything is based on the rules that God has laid down for His creation.


1. Fibonacci (Leonardo da Pisa, c1175-1250): The son of a Pisan merchant who also served as a customs officer in North Africa. He travelled widely in Barbary (Algeria) and was later sent on business trips to Egypt, Syria, Greece, Sicily and Provence. In 1200 he returned to Pisa and used the knowledge that he had gained on his travels to write Liber abaci, in which he introduced the Latin-speaking world to the decimal number system. Fibonacci numbers begin with 1,1 and the next term is the sum of the two previous terms. The first ones in the series are 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,


Mathematics Magazine 75:3 (June 2002): 163-73.

G. J. Mitchison, œPhyllotaxis and the Fibonacci Series, Science 1965, 270-75.

P. Stevens, Patterns in Nature (New York: Little Brown and Co.,1974).

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