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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Fractals and Flow

Written on: November 19th, 2018 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt. Jones Reserve

Outdoors, patterns abound. One need not be a mathematician in order to view and appreciate them.

Striking patterns against a vivid sky.

The widening whorls of seeds in a sunflower head are often used to illustrate the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8….) in which each figure is the sum of the two preceding digits. Other Fibonacci examples include the curves of nautilus shells and the swirls of hurricanes.

Brackish water flowing gently through marsh mud.

On a larger scale, trees also exhibit mathematical beauty, and they, too, spring from Fibonacci and fractal patterns. That’s the fancy way of saying their branch arrangements are not entirely random but express an inner logic. Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by tree branches and studied them — a good example for all of us to follow.

Even the leaves of plants have patterns. The scientific term phyllotaxis describes the positioning of leaves around a plant’s stem. Some ascend the stem helically, in stair-step fashion. Some alternate left to right.

Everything around us contains an inherent rhythm, an intrinsic flow, and sometimes-subtle waves of movement or energy. Water and wind and sunbeams and flowers are all “flow-ers” of one sort or another.

How many fractals, waves, and intriguing patterns can you spot when next visiting DNERR?Accompanying this blog post are a few images from the St. Jones Reserve that entice the eye with their pleasing and varied forms.

Wind blown waves in strands of marsh grass.


Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.