Plants You Can Count On

Plants You Can Count On

May 6, 2019

Sometimes we think of “nature” as a wild, messy tangle of branches and vines. But nature can be pretty neat and tidy, growing in all kinds of matching shapes and patterns. We’re loving this “Geometrical Plants” webpage, sent by Derrick Schneider of GeekDad, with photos of plants that fold and flip to show the same design over and over. Some have “symmetry” down the middle, meaning the left side looks the same as the right; others have “rotational symmetry,” meaning that if you spin them partway around they look the same as when you started. We also see cool math in the number of petals on these flowers, or the number of veins in a leaf. Read on to find out what numbers show up the most, and why!

Aloe polyphylla plant

Wee ones: How many points does the star in the middle of the green aloe plant have? See if you can count them!

Little kids: The lily pad has 8 big veins (lines) shooting out from the middle. If 1/2 of them are on the left and 1/2 are on the right, how many veins are on each side?  Bonus: If you poke the 1st vein, then the 3rd vein, then the 5th, which vein should you poke next?

Big kids: 5 and 8 are both Fibonacci numbers, where you make each number by adding the two numbers before it. The first few numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…what are the next 2 numbers?  Bonus: Sunflowers always have a Fibonacci number of petals. If a sunflower has between 40 and 60 petals, how many does it have to have?



Wee ones: 5 points.

Little kids: 4 veins on each side.  Bonus: The 7th vein.

Big kids: 13 (which is 5+8) and 21 (which is 8+13).  Bonus: 55, which comes after 21 and 34. The next Fibonacci number after that is too big (89).

And thank you Derrick for sharing this math in nature with us!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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