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Discovering patterns in nature


Patterns in nature are everywhere. From our DNA to galactic formation, patterns in nature are displayed throughout our environment as a sequence of numbers, termed the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence is a pattern of numbers that equals the sum of the previous two numbers before them — 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. First named for the mathematician Leonardo Bonacci (later Fibonacci), this order of numbers is reflected not only in nature but art, design and architecture, even DNA. The Fibonacci sequence is also known as “nature’s secret code.” Want to learn more? For information on intelligent design, check out the title “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” by Stephen Meyer (113.8 Mey).

Nothing in nature is random; there is structure and arrangement to everything in order to maximize efficiency. It is through the patterns created that we experience the beauty of flower petal arrangements, the curl of ocean waves, or the scutes on a turtle’s shell. There is also a pattern in nature based on the Golden Ratio, a proportion associated with the Fibonacci sequence that appears in the spiral of a shell and in the distribution and arrangement of seeds in a sunflower head. It can also be seen in the shape of a fetus during development or in the spiraling arms of a galaxy. The Golden Ratio appears in the spirals of a pinecone, in the skin of a pineapple, in the spiral in a sheep’s horn, or in the number of tines on a deer’s antler. It is also present in the facial proportions of people.

The Fibonacci sequential order of numbers accounts for the symmetry of organisms. It’s present in the ways they are divided into equal parts such as bilateral or radial like butterflies, starfish, or the number of pine needles in a bundle. Patterns are also evident in the shape of things, such as the geometric formation of granite columns from extinct volcanoes, the space saving design, and the hexagonal shape of honeycombs. Fractals are detailed patterns that repeat at any scale or size. Think of tree branching, snowflake formation, lightning, and even the swirling pattern of oil on water. At CDPL we have a great book titled “Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture” by Michael Hansell (591.5 Han) if you want to find out more information on nature’s design.

Patterns in nature are so common they are often overlooked. It takes a moment of recognition in order to see that first hint of repetition, that flows into a divine scheme of formation, design, and structure. Patterns in nature bring a sense of peace and constancy, a dependable framework from which we view our world. From the ripple of a stone dropped in water, to the wind whispering in the trees, we can define patterns in nature not only mathematically, but through the architecture of beauty and design.

You may also expand you’re your knowledge of patterns and designs in the natural world. For interesting design ideas check out “Plant Craft, 30 Projects that Add Natural Style to Your Home” by Caitlin Atkinson (635.9 Atk); “Garden Design: How to Be Your Own Landscape Architect” by Robin Williams (712.6 Wil) or “Green by Design” by Angela Dean (728.37 Dea). For books on drawing proportions, see “Drawing the Human Body: An Anatomical Guide” by Giovanni Civardi (743.4 Civ). For more design ideas check the Architectural Digest series (PER ARC) or the Encyclopedia of Landscape Design: Planning, Building, and Planting your Perfect Outdoor Space by DK Publishing (712.6 Enc).

Stop by the reference desk on the second floor at the Crawfordsville District Public Library for more reading suggestions. CDPL is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.


Stephanie Morrissette is an avid naturalist and is a library assistant at the Reference and Local History Department at the Crawfordsville District Public Library.