Why do cauliflowers look so odd? We’ve cracked the maths behind ...


Why do cauliflowers look so odd? We’ve cracked the maths behind their shape

After 12 years of research, three scientists have discovered why the self-similarity of the vegetables is unique

Etienne Farcot

Have you ever stared at a cauliflower before preparing it and got lost in its stunningly beautiful pattern? Probably not, if you are in your right mind, but I reassure you it’s worth a try. What you’ll find is that what at first sight looks like an amorphous blob has a striking regularity.

If you take a good look, you will see that the many florets look alike and are composed of miniature versions of themselves. In maths, we call this property self-similarity, which is a defining feature of abstract geometrical objects called fractals (https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-are-fractals-10865). But why do cauliflowers have this property? Our new study, published in Science (https://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.abg5999), has an answer.

There are many examples of fractals in natures, such as ice crystals or branches on trees. In maths, the number of copies of an initial pattern goes on infinitely. Cauliflowers present a high level of such self-similarity, involving seven or more copies of the “same” bud...

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