The head of a flower is made up of small seeds which are produced at the center, and then migrate towards the outside to fill eventually all the space (as for the sunflower but on a much smaller level). Each new seed appears at a certain angle in relation to the preceeding one. For example, if the angle is 90 degrees, that is 1/4 of a turn.

Of course, this is not the most efficient way of filling space. In fact, if the angle between the appearance of each seed is a portion of a turn which corresponds to a simple fraction, 1/3, 1/4, 3/4, 2/5, 3/7, etc (that is a simple rational number), one always obtains a series of straight lines. If one wants to avoid this rectilinear pattern, it is necessary to choose a portion of the circle which is an irrational number (or a nonsimple fraction). If this latter is well approximated by a simple fraction, one obtains a series of curved lines (spiral arms) which even then do not fill out the space perfectly.

In order to optimize the filling, it is necessary to choose the most irrational number there is, that is to say, the one the least well approximated by a fraction. This number is exactly the golden mean. The corresponding angle, the golden angle, is 137.5 degrees. (It is obtained by multiplying the non-whole part of the golden mean by 360 degrees and, since one obtains an angle greater than 180 degrees, by taking its complement). With this angle, one obtains the optimal filling, that is, the same spacing between all the seeds.

This angle has to be chosen very precisely: variations of 1/10 of a degree destroy completely the optimization. When the angle is exactly the golden mean, and only this one, two families of spirals (one in each direction) are then visible: their numbers correspond to the numerator and denominator of 2 consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, which is proved to converge toward the Golden Mean value of 1.6180339... (in the picture we have 21/34, the 7th and 8th terms of the Fibonacci sequence).

These numbers are precisely those of the Fibonacci sequence (the bigger the numbers, the better the approximation) and the choice of the fraction depends on the time laps between the appearance of each of the seeds at the center of the flower.

This is why the number of spirals in the centers of sunflowers, and in the centers of flowers in general, correspond to a Fibonacci number. Moreover, generally the petals of flowers are formed at the extremity of one of the families of spiral (true, I count 34 for this sunflower). This then is also why the number of petals corresponds on average to a Fibonacci number.

[Original description adapted from: www.popmath.org.uk]

Christian Frölich, Sven De Vos, and 114 other people added this photo to their favorites.

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dmswart 91 months ago | reply

In order to optimize the filling, it is necessary to choose the most irrational number there is, that is to say, the one the least well approximated by a fraction. This number is exactly the golden mean.I've never heard it put so elegantly or concisely

incrementality 90 months ago | reply

I linked to your picture in a blog post about Fibonacci patterns and re-creating them using code, hope you don't mind :)

ptrthomas.wordpress.com/2007/09/30/fibonacci-spiral-fun-w...

CliffMuller 87 months ago | reply

Fabulous photo! Love the description as well - fascinating!

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Seen in a discussion of Views: 600.(?)seattlerayhutch45 84 months ago | reply

Beautiful macro and elegant description of the Fibonacci spirals! I might have gotten better marks in math if my teachers had only shown me how numbers relate to such beautiful things in nature!

Please post your "Fan-Flickr-Tastic" photo in our group!

This is just a great shot!

Please tag your photo with

FAN-Flickr-TasticTomitheos 79 months ago | reply

a beautiful manifestation of the Fibonacci sequence you captured!

brilliant frame, good work!

I'm an admin for a group called Macro Magic, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

Miguel_León 79 months ago | reply

Maravillosa

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http://www.gran-angular.net/fractales-y-series-de-fibonacci-en-la-naturaleza/2008/09/11/(?)nogat from www.planetkaya.com 72 months ago | reply

great photo and description

floriegray.com is now at SmugMug [deleted] 72 months ago | reply

Hi, I'm an admin for a group called PERSONAL BEST - Preserving Meaningful Moments, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

bananajode 64 months ago | reply

Wow...beautiful!! And great info too! :-)

XMCViganoX 61 months ago | reply

Hey Luca, great picture.. I'm writing my PhD thesis on a sparse array antenna that has a similar shape. Can I used your picture in the thesis? In case how can I put your references??

ashabot 60 months ago | reply

Thank you. Fabulous photo on its own and really helpful deciphering your text.

The Crafty Ashmore's pics 58 months ago | reply

Beautiful photo! And thanks for the inspiration, I tried to replicate it in gumpaste for a cake contest and I couldn't have done it without the incredible detail in this photograph!

Katie-Rose 55 months ago | reply

Gorgeous!

lucapost 54 months ago | reply

..another flower shot of mine that I like:

chicbee04 53 months ago | reply

Exquisite macro. I love your explanation!!

six00mph 50 months ago | reply

I too think you have everything explained beautifully . . . . . . .except for one minor correction. Since all of the nature samples originated millienia before Fibonacci, isn't his sequence the same as they are? A minor point to be sure, actually just a frame of mind. This article implies (I think) that all of nature conforms to Fibonacci, when in reality, Fibonacci merely discovered a small element of the grand scheme of all things. I still love Fibonacci for enlightening me.

danieee2011 46 months ago | reply

daniel

math is beauty

Jacob Poul Skoubo [deleted] 46 months ago | reply

Good capture, I love sunflowers

Varun Bhargava 42 months ago | reply

Amazing mathematics and capture!

RTsan 25 months ago | reply

beautiful shot